Elbe estuary, Germany

Case study area

The German Bight is a large, temperate, relatively flat coastal wetland environment, formed by the intricate interactions between physical and biological factors that have given rise to a multitude of transitional habitats with tidal channels, sandy shoals, sea-grass meadows, mussel beds, sandbars, mudflats, salt marshes, estuaries, beaches and dunes. The area is home to numerous plant and animal species, including marine mammals such as the harbour seal, grey seal and harbour porpoise. Wadden Sea is one of the last remaining large-scale, intertidal ecosystems where natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed. The German Bight at the southeast of the North Sea is bounded by the Netherlands and Germany to the south, and Denmark and Germany to the east. It is heavily used for shipping, fisheries, and recently for wind energy: 19 wind parks are already in operation, and another 10 wind parks are under construction or planned. In such a heavily used area, marine spatial planning and monitoring of environmental status is of critical importance.

The port of Hamburg is the third busiest port in Europe and 15th-largest worldwide. In 2014, 9.73 million TEUs (20-foot standard container equivalents) were handled in Hamburg, all ships passing through the German bight and the river Elbe to reach the port located 110 km distance from the North Sea. Between the coast and the open North Sea, the Wadden Sea is located which is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world.