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Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of the Wadden Sea,
We are all here today celebrating the anniversary of the inscription of the Wadden Sea as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. This happened ten years ago almost to the day and marked one of the greatest achievements of the Wadden Sea Cooperation. It puts our Wadden Sea in the same league as other unique natural landscapes such as the Grand Canyon in the US.
We are celebrating here in Wilhelmshaven, where the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat is based. This town has become a symbol, well beyond its borders, of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation between Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Federal Environment Minister Schulze asked me to pass on her best wishes. Unfortunately, she could not be here in person today. Last year, she took over the presidency of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation from her Dutch colleague Carola Schouten. We in Germany are honoured to have this special role and the responsibility it entails.
I would also very much like to underline the long-lasting and trustful national cooperation with and within the German Federal States of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Hamburg, who are the responsible entities for the success story of our Wadden Sea National Parks. We, the Federal State and the Länder, are shaping our presidency together with Denmark and the Netherlands, in close contact with other players in the Wadden Sea Cooperation.
For our presidency, we have set ourselves the goal of further strengthening international cooperation on the protection and conservation of the Wadden Sea. For example, we want to establish a partnership hub and set up a partnership centre here in Wilhelmshaven. We also want to continue developing the necessary transboundary management and monitoring through a cross-cutting, integrated management plan for the whole Wadden Sea. And, as monitoring is essential for assessing the state of the Wadden Sea, we also want to secure the Trilateral Monitoring and Assessment Program (TMAP) for the future.
As you can see, we have a busy agenda! I am confident that we will reach our goals. From the very start of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation over 40 years ago, collaboration between the three neighbouring countries and all stakeholders has been exemplary.
This transboundary character is one of the aspects that makes the Wadden Sea such a special place – even among the World Heritage Sites. And it makes our trilateral cooperation special at a time when we are confronted with scepticism towards international cooperation. Even though nature doesn’t recognise political borders, transboundary cooperation to protect nature is currently being questioned by many. Collaboration across borders is still far from a matter of course, which is why our trilateral cooperation here at the heart of Europe is respected worldwide.
Environment Minister Lies already addressed some of the challenges facing the Wadden Sea. I would like to illustrate this with an example. We are aware, on an abstract level, that all species and habitats are closely interlinked, and the Wadden Sea makes this tangible: through the importance of the Wadden Sea as a hub for the East Atlantic Flyway, which millions of migratory birds use every year as a breeding or resting site on their journeys between the Arctic and southern Africa. Our international cooperation with countries in the West of Africa such as Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau, and with the Arctic Council, is an important component for protecting our migratory birds.
However, we also have a special responsibility. The currently published status report on migratory bird populations along the East Atlantic flyway shows that there is an urgent need for action in the Wadden Sea region too. For example, birds breeding here are in danger from predators such as martens, foxes and rats. The populations of breeding birds are in severe decline compared with staging or wintering populations along the Flyway.
I have talked a lot about the importance of cooperation. I am therefore especially pleased that also representatives from South Korea are here. We have been working together for over ten years. You may ask where the common ground lies: South Korea has a tidal mudflat area – “ a Wattenmeer”-, too. At the beginning of this year, also thanks to support from the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation, South Korea was able to submit a full application for inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List. UNESCO will take its decision next year. I will keep my fingers crossed that your application succeeds.
I believe that we can still learn a lot from one another and that close, transboundary cooperation is essential to long-term success. This also applies to cooperation with the people and players at local level and across the wider region. Ultimately, it is a question of sharing expertise and experience, of mutual respect and trust and of viewing things in context and moving them forward. It is about respecting nature’s boundaries and limits and showing that it is possible to combine protection and sustainable use.
Partnership is a key component here. To combat the current and future challenges facing the entire World Natural Heritage Site and its surrounding region, the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation has decided to set up a partnership hub and a partnership centre. This will further develop existing structures and help us with our work on sustainability, regional development and nature conservation in the Wadden Sea.
The new partnership hub will pool expertise from the various Wadden Sea regions and networks from environment, science and education, sustainable tourism and municipalities. It will help ensure that we all benefit from the world natural heritage. Additionally, it will support the trilateral cooperation and strengthen state responsibility for the protection and conservation of the Wadden Sea
We must all continue our work to protect this unique site with ambition and success. Together we will make the partnership hub a reality. The Memorandum of Understanding being signed today is a further step on this path.
I wish us all continued, close collaboration. I, for one, am very much looking forward to this.
Thank you very much. I hope you all enjoy this World Heritage Experience Festival!