UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Wadden Sea and Hallig Islands of Schleswig-Holstein

Where the Sea and the Horizon Meet

The Wadden Sea is one of the last large natural landscapes in Germany. The natural landscape extends from the Netherlands across the German North Sea coast to Denmark. Next to the mountain region of the Alps, the Wadden Sea on the North Sea coast is the last extensive wilderness in Europe.

On the North Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, the biosphere reserve includes a unique and special landscape form, the Hallig Islands, where the sustainable development of the Wadden Sea is particularly pronounced and where around 250 animal species and incomparable ecosystem types occur.

The Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park is the largest national park between the North Cape and Sicily. The salt marshes along the Wadden Sea coast mark a special habitat, regularly flooded by the sea and nowhere else to be found. The Wadden Sea is also the area with the highest number of birds in Europe. The Schleswig-Holstein part alone is visited in spring and late summer by more than two million birds, most of which breed on the Arctic coasts; seals and harbour porpoises also live here. In the world network, the biosphere reserve stands for the habitats of tidal flats, salt marshes, dunes, beaches, and sands.

Contributions to sustainable development

People like to make use of the North Sea coast in Schleswig-Holstein just as much as birds do. Every year one million guests undertake mudflat walks, take advantage of other natural heritage offers, or visit information facilities. Adapted tourism does not only preserve nature, the special culture of the coast is also kept alive. In addition to Low German, the Frisians still speak their local language today.

Agriculture, coastal protection, and tourism are the main livelihoods of the inhabitants of the Hallig Islands. There has also been a joint marketing campaign with the aim of increasing the quality of the offers and inspiring new guests to enjoy Hallig life. The “Brent Goose Days”, for example, successfully advertise the acceptance of nature conservation measures. They have already taken place more than twenty times, and with a varied programme of events and excursions not only attract ornithologists.

Since 2017 and thanks to a new mussel fishing programme with a public-law contract, 87 percent of the protected area has been free of any mussel farming. Like the mussel fishery, the sustainable shrimp fishery has also been MSC certified.

International Cooperation

The biosphere reserve has long been promoting ecological volunteering and has welcomed international volunteers as well. The “voluntary ecological year” is now also open to refugees and works towards an inclusive society where humans and the environment go hand in hand. 


  • Year of designation: 1990
  • State/Province: Schleswig-Holstein
  • Size: 4,431 km² (of which 1,570 km² core area and 2,840 km² buffer zone)
  • Represented landscape: Wadden Sea, islands and marshes
  • Website: www.nationalpark-wattenmeer.de/sh