8th Trilateral Conference on the Wadden Sea
(25 October 1997)
The Wadden Sea is probably Europe's largest wetlands, an area of shallow water, tidal mudflats, marsh and sand extending along the coastline from the Netherlands to Denmark, separated from the North Sea by a chain of barrier islands. The main purpose of the 8th Trilateral Governmental Conference on the Protection of the Wadden Sea, 21-23 October 1997, just concluded in Stade, Germany, was for the Ministers of the three Wadden Sea States to adopt a management plan for the so-called "Trilateral Cooperation Area". They finally reached agreement after very thorough discussions, with the final negotiations still going on till the very last minute, reports Tim Jones, the Bureau's Regional Coordinator for Europe, who represented the Convention. The Plan is inevitably a compromise to accommodate the concerns of the many different interest groups (nature conservation, agriculture, flood protection, oil exploitation/exploration, tourism and fisheries being the main ones), but it is a significant achievement nevertheless. Environmental NGOs have criticized the Plan, Mr Jones says, arguing that it does not give sufficient attention to the impact of activities outside the boundary of the Wadden Sea itself. In response, the Governments agreed to put discussion of an integrated coastal zone management plan on their agenda in the run-up to the next Ministerial Conference (set for Denmark in 2001).
As part of the signing ceremony, the Wadden Sea States also concluded a three-year cooperative agreement with the Ramsar Administrative Authority in Guinea Bissau. This agreement - based on the principle of the East Atlantic Flyway, which links Guinea Bissau and the Wadden Sea region - provides US$ 156,000 for research and monitoring of migratory waterbirds. A representative of the Ramsar Administrative Authority in the Russian Federation also attended the conference as an observer, with a view to possible future cooperative agreements with the Wadden Sea countries. Close technical links have also been established between the Wadden Sea and two North Sea coastal Ramsar Sites in the UK, "North Norfolk Coast" and "The Wash"; these two contiguous sites share many similiarities with the Wadden Sea, and there are proposals for extending these links over the next three years.
An added feature of the conference was the presentation of information on the impressive Trilateral Monitoring and Assessment Programme (TMAP) for the Wadden Sea, perhaps the most comprehensive environmental monitoring programme for any large European Ramsar site.
During breaks in the meeting, Mr Jones had a chance to discuss Ramsar-related issues with the German Federal Environment Minister (Dr Angela Merkel), the Danish Minister for Environment, and the Dutch State Secretary (Dr J.F. de Leeuw). Fritz Dieterich, Ramsar's German Administrative Authority representative, was the head of the negotiating team for the German delegation, as well as the organizer of the conference. A copy of the Ministerial Declaration will be available on this site in a few days' time.