The Wadden Sea (Dutch: Waddenzee, German: Wattenmeer, Low German: Wattensee or Waddenzee, Danish: Vadehavet, West Frisian: Waadsee, North Frisian: di Heef) is an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea. It lies between the coast of northwestern continental Europe and the range of low-lying Frisian Islands, forming a shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands. It is rich in biological diversity. In 2009, the Dutch and German parts of the Wadden Sea were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List and the Danish part was added in June 2014.
The Wadden Sea stretches from Den Helder, in the northwest of the Netherlands, past the great river estuaries of Germany to its northern boundary at Skallingen in Denmark along a total coastline of some 500 km (310 mi) and a total area of about 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi). Within the Netherlands it is bounded from the IJsselmeer by the Afsluitdijk. The Wadden Sea’s coastline has been heavily modified by man. Extensive systems of dikes and causeways make it among the most human-altered on the planet.
The word wad is Dutch for "mud flat" (Low German and German: Watt, Danish: Vade). The area is typified by extensive tidal mud flats, deeper tidal trenches (tidal creeks) and the islands that are contained within this, a region continually contested by land and sea.
The landscape has been formed for a great part by storm tides in the 10th to 14th centuries, overflowing and carrying away former peat land behind the coastal dunes. The present islands are a remnant of the former coastal dunes.
Towards the North Sea the islands are marked by dunes and wide sandy beaches, and towards the Wadden Sea a low, tidal coast. The impact of waves and currents carrying away sediments is slowly changing both land masses and coastlines. For example, the islands of Vlieland and Ameland have moved eastwards through the centuries, having lost land on one side and added it on the other.
The Wadden Sea is famous for its rich flora and fauna, especially birds. Hundreds of thousands of waders, ducks, and geese use the area as a migration stopover or wintering site. It is also a rich habitat for gulls and terns. However, the biodiversity of Wadden Sea today is only a fraction of what was seen before human exploitation; for birds, larger species such as geese, eagles, flamingos, pelicans, and herons used to be common as well. Some regionally extinct species are still found here.
According to J. B. MacKinnon, larger fish including sturgeons, rays, Atlantic salmon, brown trout, and others like lacuna snails and oyster beds that were once found elsewhere in the region have disappeared as the Wadden Sea has been reduced to about 50% of its original size and nutrients from Rhine river no longer flow into it. As a result about 90% of all the species which historically inhabited the Wadden Sea are present at risk.
Wadden Sea is an important habitat for both harbor and grey seals. Harbour porpoises and Atlantic white-beaked dolphins, which once were locally extinct but have re-colonized the area, are the sea’s only resident cetaceans. Many other species have disappeared, only visit seasonally, or occasionally. North Atlantic right whales and gray whales were once seen in the region, using the shallow, calm waters for either feeding and breeding, before they were completely wiped out by shore-based whaling. They are now thought to either be extinct or have remnant populations In the low-tens. A possible right whale was observed close to beaches on Texel in the West Frisian Islands and off Steenbanken, Schouwen-Duiveland in July 2005. Recent increases in number of North Atlantic humpback whales and minke whales might have resulted in more visits and possible re-colonization by the species to the areas especially around Marsdiep. Future recovery of once-extinct local bottlenose dolphins is also expected.
Although the Wadden Sea is not yet listed as a transboundary Ramsar site, a great part of the Wadden Sea is protected in cooperation of all three countries. The governments of the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have been working together since 1978 on the protection and conservation of the Wadden Sea. Co-operation covers management, monitoring and research, as well as political matters. Furthermore, in 1982, a Joint Declaration on the Protection of the Wadden Sea was agreed upon to co-ordinate activities and measures for the protection of the Wadden Sea. In 1997, a Trilateral Wadden Sea Plan was adopted.
In June 2009, the Wadden Sea (comprising the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area and the German Wadden Sea National Parks of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein) was placed on the World Heritage list by UNESCO. The Danish part was added to the site in 2014.
Many of the islands have been popular seaside resorts since the 19th century.
It is also a popular region for pleasure boating.
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