The Dutch Wadden Sea region

Cooperation for sustainable development of the region

Knowledge and Education
Local Economy Development
Alternative Tourism

A best practice example regarding cooperation between cross-border countries and local stakeholders to sustainably develop an internationally recognized natural site, protect its fragile environment, reduce conflicts, develop partnership to create new business opportunities based on local heritage and increase environment and sustainable awareness.    

The Wadden Sea area lies north of the Dutch coast and stretches over two additional countries (Germany and Denmark). Part of the area is a UNESCO world heritage site for being the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world, with natural processes undisturbed throughout most of the area. It is a unique ecosystem characterized by rich flora and fauna (the wetland system is a critical habitat for millions of birds). 

The area also includes many human activities, tourism is a major source of income, the agricultural sector is also important and fisheries have always been part of the traditional culture. Gas and sand extractions, ports and industrial activities are also present in the area. Multiple activities coexist and inevitably put pressure on this unique natural ecosystem. The Wadden Sea area also faces social challenges with a decline-aging-population coupled with a higher employment rate compared to the national level. The Danube mouth (Romanian’s COASTAL case study) shares many common characteristics with the Dutch Wadden Sea.




  • Public awareness and lifestyle (including food habits)
  • Lack of a scientific/policy interface to support management decisions
  • Lack of information/education



To facilitate the cooperation in nature management, in 1987 a Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC) was established, between The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, with the Council of Ministers that meets every three years at the Wadden Sea Governmental Conferences and a Wadden Sea Board (WSB) that is the governing body of the Cooperation and supervises the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS). In 1997, a Trilateral Wadden Sea Plan was adopted which defines common management targets, updated in 2010. More interestingly, The TWSC, established in 2002 as the Wadden Sea Forum (WSF), is an independent platform of stakeholders from Denmark, Germany, and The Netherlands with representatives of all sectors: Agriculture, Energy, Fisheries, Industry and Harbour, Nature Protection, Tourism, as well as local and regional governments. National governments are represented as observers. The WSF focus on the sustainable development of the trilateral Wadden Sea Region by integrating specific cross-sectoral and transboundary strategies, actions, and techniques that are environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially acceptable (WSF, 2010). Through the exchange of information on best practices and experiences, implementation of actions and projects which bring together stakeholders and the scientific community, advising on sustainable development, implementing an ICZM strategy, as well as serving as a consultation body for governments, the Wadden Sea Forum contributes to land-sea synergies. The WSF provides a platform for stakeholders to discuss, exchange, and negotiate on conflict issues, and develops collaborative strategies thus, enhancing coastal-rural collaborations.


Sustainable development strategies, new practices to tackle local issues, and innovative business solutions, all need a deep understanding of local characteristics in order to be successfully implemented. The Walter project implemented, between 2011 and 2015, a monitoring program and launched a public online platform that provides advice for monitoring (themes), grants access to relevant Wadden Sea area data (data portal) and functional data and information products (tools) for policy and decision-making and science. The monitoring process goes by themes:

  • Natural values of tidal flats
  • Aliens species
  • Renewable energies
  • Climate and nature
  • ‘Demography and quality-of-life
  • Gas and salt extractions
  • Tourism
  • Economic sectors
  • Shellfish fisheries
  • Climate and safety
  • Dredging

The monitoring program covers the economic, environmental and social aspects of the Wadden Sea area. The public access to the data offers the civil society and all local stakeholders (publics and privates) scientific knowledge for a better understanding and sustainable development of the Wadden Sea area.

The Wadden Sea Forum is also a major actor in terms of monitoring and data sharing through reports publicly available. It is worth noting, that the implementation of a project developing and analysing sustainable indicators in the Wadden Sea Region at a regional and local level, as well as a study on demographic change (viewed as a major challenge) fills a knowledge gap in terms of socio-economic information.



  • Fisheries and aquaculture

  • Improvement of communication and governance

  • Education and environmental awareness
  • Improvement of sustainable management of natural areas



The three Wadden Sea countries adopted a strategy for Sustainable Tourism in the Wadden Sea World Heritage Destination in 2014. The Dutch area also provides good local practice examples in terms of sustainable tourism based on local coastal-rural culture and traditional activities. The local FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Groups) of Noord Holland supported the creation of fish markets around the areas to promote local fish culture and products as well as reconnect the general public with the fisheries heritage of the area. The market experience has also been extended to other locally produced products such as cheese, vegetables, meat, and organic produce, promoting an alternative lifestyle.


The fish markets became local tourist attractions, during the summer, tourists are even treated to dance shows and a harbour choir performed. The project goes further to develop public awareness and transform the act of buying towards local culture, by developing a website ( and other promotional tools, including flyers, displays and information points, an education centre, and joining workshops on how to prepare fish, etc. As a mark of success, fish sales constantly increased.


Cooperation between the fishermen, the local shops, and tourist organisations has also developed, thus increasing land-sea synergies. This FARNET good practice example can inspire similar initiatives with agricultural culture and products in other coastal areas.

The ‘Wonderful Wieringen’ foundation, supported by the Leader+ agricultural funding programme, is another best practice example (Leader+ best practices in 2008) of local cooperation in order to develop new products, improve quality management, and enhance the image of a coastal-rural area. The overall aim was to promote a multi-purpose landscape through the development of nature, landscape, water, and households in a sustainable way. The project also promoted the island’s cultural identity. The whole project strategy is based upon the best use of the cultural and natural attractiveness of the area so that it can develop new incomes and opportunities through recreational tourism, local products, and services to visitors. The foundation and municipality have further co-operated with a neighbouring province to jointly promote tourism.


More specifically the following activities have been developed throughout the project:

  • The creation of a central brand and logo for the area, using a Viking image;
  • The creation of an Internet site that tells the story of the secret Wadden island in both Dutch and German;
  • The generation and dissemination of publications and maps which highlight the treasures of the area and how to discover them – this is free of charge and is readily available at the tourist office and many outlets and shops;
  • The promotion of a number of local products, including Wieringer honey, cigars, Jewish wafers, Viking cakes, and tulip bulbs;
  • The promotion of activities and events around the area, such as the fresh sea fish market and the flower festival; and
  • The design of new services for visitors, in cooperation with local entrepreneurs, so that tourists can easily discover all the interesting places on the island.


All attractions are clearly marked on the map which helps them save time when planning their visit. The project has generated new activities and increased visitor numbers over a short period of time, and the foundation doubled its number of members (see more here).

Finally, the WWF initiative in the Wadden Sea should be highlighted. In collaboration with the PROWAD project, on sustainable tourism in the Wadden Sea, the non-profit organisation developed a ‘World Heritage Teaching kit’, to educate the young generation on conflicts between tourism and nature conservation, the Wadden Sea as a habitat, but also as a model region for sustainable tourism. A similar document could be developed in the COASTAL case studies to educate and enhance awareness about the environment, local specificities, sustainable development, and so on, in order to prepare future generations for the local challenges and focus on the needs of the areas.