Germany's Wadden Sea has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The decision was announced Friday at the World Heritage Committee's annual meeting in Seville, Spain.
Germany and the Netherlands registered the Wadden Sea, a tidal wetlands area on their northern coasts, as a contender for the UNESCO World Heritage title at the beginning of 2008. Friday's announcement makes the nature reserve the first one in Germany to be awarded the status.
Recently, the Wadden Sea has been under threat due to the constant flow of shipping traffic and plans for oil and gas drilling. There is also concern about the effect climate change could have on the area.
Visited by thousands of tourists every year, the Wadden Sea spans more than 10,000 kilometers and borders three countries in total: the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. Visitors flock there year-round to enjoy the endless expanse of shallow mud flats, caught between land and sea, and its diverse wildlife.
In 1985, Germany officially declared the Wadden Sea tidal flats a nature reserve and national park. Parts of it have also been protected under national park status in the Netherlands.
Environmentalists fear for the Wadden Sea's future though as plans to deepen the Elbe River, which borders the Wadden Sea, to accomodate ships en route to the Hamburg Harbor could have a damaging effect on the nature reserve. Many different species make their home there, including seals, and an estimated 1.5 million birds descend on the Wadden Sea for food during migratory seasons.
There has also been concern about the oil and gas drilling platforms planted in the middle of the park. In the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, it is legal to drill for oil in national parks, however, it goes against the rules of the UNESCO World Heritage committee. In order to get around a potential barrier to receiving the title, Germany and the Netherlands cut out the sections of the park used for drilling in their application.
There are also long-term concerns about the effect climate change will have on the wetlands, as rising sea levels could cause the area to slowly erode over time.
A UNESCO World Heritage title is the highest honor yet for the Wadden Sea and advocates say it will help to ensure its conservation.
Germany boasts a long list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in addition to the Wadden Sea, including the Hanseatic city of Lübeck, the Cologne Cathedral, and the Messel pit, one of the world's most improtant sites for fossils. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee will announce their final decision on all new entries by the end of the conference on June 30th.
Editor: Trinity Hartman
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