Elbe estuary region & North Sea, Germany

Multi-use and cross-sectoral synergies on marine and land space, adaptive water management and education & public awareness

Knowledge and Education
Water Management
A demonstration of best practice in terms of lessons learned and policy recommendations: stakeholder involvement (public & private) and public participatory processes to improve governance, the need of knowledge and information access, clear prospective planning strategies.


The Elbe Estuary is located in Germany, from the river Elbe mouth in Hamburg, the second biggest port in Europe, to the German North Sea Coast, a 97-km-long estuary. The major functions of the land-sea region are shipping/transport, fisheries and aquaculture, agriculture as well as tourism and recreation, and nature conservation. The seaward section of the estuary is part of the Wadden Sea National Parks, it is also an important habitat for birds (90% of the estuary area is designated as a Natura 2000 site) and has several Ramsar sites (important wetland area to be protected). Practice examples in this region are relevant for all COASTAL case studies.


The COEXIST project gives valuable lessons learned, policy recommendations, and tools for the sustainable development of coastal-rural areas by increasing synergies between activities and reducing stakeholder conflicts for spatial location. Following research in the North Sea and other European seas, partners of the COEXIST projects highlight the importance of mapping activities and conflicts (to evaluate the degree of interaction between potential overlapping activities), and the need for balancing development and preservation/conservation by conducting a conflict analysis and developing a framework for decision making (following the fifth principal of ICZM). The project developed different tools (a mapping of activities tool; an Individual Stress Level Analysis tool; an Analysis of Conflict Scores tool; a GeoReference Interactions Database (GRID) tool; a Stakeholder Consultation tool) to assess, monitor, and evaluate conflict, synergies and potential co-use of space. The co-use of space, especially at sea often faces legislation issues. National legal requirements relating to licensing of activities are significant barriers to the development of cross-sectoral activities as shown in the German North Sea where the combination of offshore wind farms and fisheries or aquaculture depends heavily on overcoming regulatory and insurance-related issues.

From the analysis of conflicts and synergies developed through the project, a set of recommendations can be applied to coastal-rural sectors to support solutions to stakeholders' conflicts and foster synergies between land-sea areas:

  • improved governance structures to adapt to integrated spatial management plans
  • legally binding spatial management framework (e.g. national, regional or local MSP)
  • the transparent, participatory, and integrated spatial planning process
  • clear and transparent stakeholder processes that define who is involved and at what stage(s)
  • quality assurance of information and data used in the decision-making process
  • improved enforcement systems
  • investment subsidies timely followed by market investments, realised by public-private partnerships
  • development of model projects and planning initiatives specifically allocated zones for new activities



  • Stakeholders Conflict
  • Spatial planning



Water management is a central issue, common to all COASTAL case studies; A river from the headwater deep in the rural hinterland until its estuary in the coastal zone, can be seen as the vertebral column of a coastal-rural body, thus a water resource sustainably manage, qualitatively and quantitatively, can foster coastal-rural collaboration and increase land-sea synergies. The Elbe estuary region offers additional lessons learned and policy recommendations regarding water management with the research project NeWater which explored new approaches to integrated water resource management (IWRM), promoted by the European WFD, by arguing that it cannot be achieved unless the current water management regimes undergo a transition towards more adaptive water management process, defined as an approach that addresses uncertainty and complexity by increasing and sustaining the capacity to learn while managing. Key research topics concern water governance, cross-sectoral integration, stakeholder conflicts, information management, infrastructure, finance and risk mitigation, knowledge diffusion, and implementation.

Following the study of the Elbe basin, researchers express recommendations to further implement an adaptive water management approach:

  • development of a clear strategy for planning in light of climate change, and negotiations for a wider agreement between government authorities, nongovernmental bodies, and the public;
  • establishment of clear indicators of the positive and negative effects, not only for water quality and quantity (they do exist) but also for environmental, economic, and social aspects;
  • extended usage of modeling tools and decision support systems in water management;
  • enhanced support for knowledge dissemination at the local municipality level; and
  • wider access to relevant information and data to the public

Moreover, five lessons learned have been identified by the research program (see figure below):

  1. The needs for full support from government, authorities, and stakeholders as well as proper financial resources
  2. Developing prospective scenarios and analyses helps make uncertainty more tangible, particularly relevant in a Climate change perspective
  3. Social learning and application of diverse tools (performance indicators, stakeholder analysis, and stakeholder engagement tools…) help dealing with this uncertainty
  4. Adapting to the local context by learning from experiment
  5. Full engagement of stakeholders, with trust, and education are necessary to make the learning process more efficient and contribute to solving the problem in a collaborative way.




  • Lack of information / education
  • Public awareness & lifestyle (including food habits)


During COASTAL local sectoral workshop, stakeholders often point out problems of communication and education (in terms of environment, legislation, infrastructure, climate change….): insufficiently coordinated and available information, not well corresponding to local realities, not sufficient development of public education and understanding, particularly on environmental problem/solution possibilities.
In Germany, to fill this knowledge gap, the Coastal Union (EUCC) launched in 2002, the German coastal newsletter (“Küsten Newsletter”) with 3 general objectives:

  1. to make recent data and information available to a large audience within a short time;
  2. to provide a forum for exchange and discussions.
  3. to raise the awareness about coastal problems and the need for ICZM.

The newsletter has 6 issues per year and summarises recent coastal information, relays international news, national ongoing discussions, and controversial hot-topics, and presents recent coastal and marine upcoming conferences and workshops. It is sent to subscribers and accessible via the internet. It is now the most important source of coastal information in Germany and a major promoter of ICZM at a little cost. 

Another initiative in Germany to raise public awareness, focusing on ICZM, was the development of an internet platform proposing an online learning system that consists of independent online study, information, and teaching modules. The modules deal with the coast and the sea in general and with ICZM in particular. Some of the modules explain the general conditions for ICZM in Germany - case studies about ICZM initiatives in Germany show the special German state-of-the-art. The modules are free of charge and address experts, students, and the interested public (see details here).