Various landscapes

The Wadden Sea is extraordinary because it is a large and shallow region, but especially because it is so variable. There are so many different landscapes found here. The one landscape flows over into the next. It is a gradual transition from a deeper North Sea to higher land, but also a transition between fresh water from the rivers and salt water from the oceans. The plants and animals also have influence on how the Wadden Sea develops. The natural forces together with all the living organisms make up the various habitats, which together form one large Wadden Sea ecosystem.

North Sea

The Wadden Sea region includes part of the North Sea coastal zone. This zone is an average of 10 meters deep and remains underwater during low tide. Animals that live on the bottom are specially adapted to the turbulent environment, where waves have a large impact. Due to the tides, sand is constantly being exchanged between this coastal zone, the islands and the emerged parts of the Wadden Sea. This system of exchange is of major importance for the area in its resistance to sea-level rise and to damage caused by severe storms. It also assures that the islands expand in certain areas and erode in other areas.

Between the islands, via the tidal inlets, water flows twice a day from the coastal zone into the Wadden Sea. Nutrients and living organisms are carried or swim freely from the one sea to the other. There is also an unusual landscape in the coastal zone, which is part of the World Heritage Site: the Borkum Reef Ground. This is a piece of the sea floor containing lots of boulders which were deposited by the glaciers during the next to last glacial period.



Between the islands , large channels connect the tidal inlets to the Wadden Sea. Due to the network carved out by the channels, a more or less enclosed area develops behind each inlet. During low tide or on a sea chart, it is easy to see that these areas barely join adjacent areas. In that way, lots of mini-areas are formed, which together make up the Wadden Sea. Between the deeper channels, you find more shallow surfaces. Many of the surfaces emerge twice a day. Some of them always stay under water. How much emerges depends upon the tide, the position of the moon and the wind. You won't find much growing on most of these surfaces.

However, you will find vegetation along the coasts of the islands and the mainland. The salt marsh regions are overgrown with plants that survive being flooded with salt water. The deeper parts of the Wadden Sea never emerge. Some of these channels are made up of sharp ridges with deep valleys. There is also an area where the tide is so strong that islands are unable to develop. This is the German Bight, a true bend in the coast and where the greatest difference in tides for the entire area occur: 4 meters. This is also the mouth of the river Elbe. Jade Bay, or the Jadebussen, is an exceptionally marshy region. Pieces of peat bog that have broken off from the rest drift here in the shallow bay. This area was often plagued by severe storms in the past.

Dynamics also play a major role on land adjacent to the Wadden Sea. Presently, dikes have been constructed in many places in order to temper the forces of nature. However, there are still some areas on land where natural forces are still allowed free reign. Along the Jadebussen coast and in the vicinity of Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg, there are sandy cliffs known as geest cliffs, which are remnants from the next to last glacial period. Many coasts in the world are made up of high land which borders the sea. However the geest cliffs are exceptional in the Wadden Sea region, where gradual transitions dominate. This is most apparent during low tide, when the coastal land turns into an exposed seabed.

In the coastal zone on the Dutch island Ameland and the German island Spiekeroog, you can find dune regions where seawater washes over during a storm surge or extra high water levels. The sea is allowed to spread over the land at these so-called washovers. Otherwise, the water would cause unwanted dune erosion. Here the sand spreads over the marsh lying behind the dunes in a fan-like pattern. The uninhabited islands and some of the nature areas on the inhabited islands, such as salt marshes, beaches, dunes and beach plains, are allowed to develop in a natural way. You can witness this on the uninhabited islands in the Netherlands (e.g. Rottumeroog, Rottemerplaat), Lower Saxony (e.g. Kachelotplate, Mellum) and Schleswig-Holstein (e.g. Trischen, Außensände, some small Hallig islands).