2023 Sylt, Germany

Key Info

Conference Dates
29/09/23 — 03/10/23

The 2023 annual conference was held at the Wadden Sea island of Sylt, Germany.

Welcome to the Wadden Sea – National Park and World Heritage Site

The Wadden Sea, with its tidal flats, tidal creeks, estuaries, salt marshes, beaches, dunes and islands is one of the last rather unspoilt nature areas in Europe. Ebb and flow deter- mine the pace of life in the Wadden Sea and lead to continuous change. 4,500 square kilometres of its sea bed are exposed twice a day and make the Wadden Sea the world’s largest continuous area of mud flats. It extends as a shallow sea from Den Helder in the Netherlands along the entire German North Sea coast to Esbjerg in Denmark.

Tiny algae, worms, crabs, snails and shellfish abound on and in the mud flats. The Wadden Sea is also a nursery for some fish species. On the fish, marine mammals such as Harbour Seals feed. The Grey Seal, once extinct in the Wadden Sea, has returned, and is now thriving again in this protected environment.

However, of highest relevance for the Wadden Sea are the birds. During spring around one million coastal birds breed in salt marshes, dunes, and beaches. And ten times as many, about 10 million, waders and waterbirds come from northern breeding areas to the Danish-German-Dutch Wadden Sea. For some subspecies or populations, almost all individuals use the Wadden Sea at some point in their annual cycle. They all are dependent on the area to rest, for fattening, moulting or wintering. Due to the very different annual cycles and needs of the birds, the Wadden Sea harbours large numbers of birds during the entire year, with lowest numbers in June, and highest numbers during spring and autumn.

The area where the IWSG-Conference takes place, the island of Sylt belongs to the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea, which has been designated as National Park in 1985. Sylt is a hotspot for tourism, as you might experience during your stay. While the large dune areas on Sylt are protected, the island is not part of the actual National Park, but surrounded by it. Since the creation of a dam about 100 years ago, connecting the island with the mainland, mammalian predators have invaded the island and as a result just very few coastal birds still breed on Sylt. However, in particular on the east side of the island, close to the mud flats, there are a number of important high tide roosts. We might experience some of them during the excursions.


A multitude of threats

Only a few decades ago, the Wadden Sea was seen as useless. More and more areas were embanked by large dykes and converted into farmland. Concern about the loss of an irreplaceable habitat then became the driving motivation to protect not only small sites but the Wadden Sea in its entirety. However, despite the rather sophisticated protection regime of today (see below) the Wadden Sea is not yet safe: oil and gas production, the laying of cables and pipelines, coastal protection works, deepening of shipping channels, and the extension of ports in the estuaries continue to threaten parts of the Wadden Sea. Still too many nutrients and pollutants find their way into the sea. Shipping accidents are a permanent risk for pollution. Fishing harms the underwater habitats. Also the quite intense tourism, though seriously struggling for sustainability, causes harm to nature.

The biggest threat to the area is climate change. The accelerating sea level rise caused by this threatens the Wadden Sea in its very substance. Thus, the habitats in the transition between land and sea, the mud flats, salt marshes, sandbanks and dunes, could be eroded and, in the long run, may disappear. At the same time the risk from storm tides will increase for the populated areas on the islands and the mainland. Thus, it is climate protection which hopefully can save the Wadden Sea, combined with adaptation measures which would allow the Wadden Sea to grow with the sea.


How does Wadden Se protection work?

The origins of Wadden Sea protection date back to more than 100 years ago, based in the beginning on small bird sites being protected. However, the starting point for protecting the Wadden Sea as a continuous and comprehensive natural area was when the three Wadden Sea countries began their “Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation” in 1978. At regular intergovernmental conferences, protection measures were agreed upon, while the responsibility remained within the three countries. Of particular importance was that already in 1991 the countries jointly decided, that “the Guiding Principle of the trilateral Wadden Sea policy is to achieve, as far as possible, a natural and sustainable ecosystem in which natural processes proceed in an undisturbed way”. In 2009 almost the entire Dutch and German Wadden Sea was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Danish Wadden Sea following in 2014. It is also important to note that conservation NGOs had and have a strong role in lobbying for better Wadden Sea protection, but also in its implementation, based also on a lot of volunteer work.

It often took a long time to come to appropriate decisions and in many cases – as is shown by the continuing threats – they are not yet sufficient. However, on the whole the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation is a unique model for how several states can protect a shared natural environment, evolving now for 45 years! Please look into „The SIMP – Integrated Management Plan for ONE Wadden Sea World Heritage“ ( to get the best possible overview about how Wadden Sea protection works.

Hans-Ulrich Rösner, WWF and part of the 2023 IWSG conference organising team





IWSG is an organisation which is committed to diversity and inclusivity. Everyone is welcome to become a member or to join us at our conferences, irrespective of their age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nationality and socio-economic status.

If you have any questions regarding our annual meetings, please contact us via and


The island of Sylt is the northernmost Wadden Sea island of Germany. On the western shore, Sylt has a 40-kilometre long sandy beach. The eastern shore borders directly to the intertidal mudflats of the Wadden Sea. Sylt is a well known tourist destination. Since 1927, Sylt has been connected to the mainland by the Hindenburgdamm causeway

Our venue is located in the village Rantum – ADS Schullandheim, Am Torbogen 7, 25980 Sylt. From the train station in Westerland take bus line 2 and exit at “Rantum Nord Sylt Quelle”. From there, it is only a short walk to the venue.

“Schullandheim” is a hostel for school classes for when they go for several-day school trips. Our venue will provide accommodation, food, lecture halls and a bar all under one roof.


Our venue was a former barracks building during the Second World War. In the 1930ies the nearby Rantumbecken, a former Wadden Sea bay, was embanked by the National Socialists to create a landing place for seaplanes. Immediately after the Second World War ended the buildings hosted up to 2.500 refugees and also provided a school, shops etc. and even a church. Subsequently, the buildings provided accommodation for children who were sent into a maritime climate to regain strength. Since 1952 ADS Grenzfriedensbund is offering Schullandheim experiences for pupils, i.e. several-day schooltrips without parents.

ADS Grenzfriedensbund e.V. is a non-profit organisation offering social, cultural and educational activities especially for children and families in northern Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. A special focus is set on cultivating the Danish-German friendship especially in the border region and is active in fostering regional and minority languages.


From the venue, it is a short walk to the mudflats towards the east and to the sandy beaches to the west.

Please download here the conference booklet.

Excursions were scheduled for Saturday afternoon around high tide.

Destination 1: Königshafen List Königshafen bay

The famous Königshafen mudflats have been the study sites of many published studies on foraging ecology of migratory waders and/or ecological macrozoobenthos studies. The bay of Königshafen lies in the north of Sylt.


Destination 2: Rantumbecken Rantum basin

The Rantumbecken is a bird sanctuary with more than 60 species to be counted. It is within walking distance from our venue. The Rantumbecken is a former tidal Wadden Sea bay that has been embanked to provide a non-tidal landing place for waterplanes in the Nazi era. In the 1960ies, the area has become a protected nature preserve.


Destination 3: Hörnumer Nehrung Hörnum spit

The Hörnumer Nehrung (or Hörnumer spit) lies in the very south of Sylt. The peninsula creates a protected and safe spot for the birds during high tide. Walking along this sandy spit can be a bit strenuous.


Three workshops were held during the conference

Sunday 01 October 2023

session/workshop “The protection of meadow birds – realisation via various funding instruments with their advantages and disadvantages”– International Seminar of the EU-project LIFE Limicodra



Monday 02 October 2023

workshop 1: Assessing the capabilities of intertidal wintering and staging sites to mitigate climate change repercussions on arctic breeding waders

contact: Gregor Scheiffahrt & Jutta Leyrer


workshop 2: The use of tracking devices to study movements and behaviour

contact: Bart Kempenaers