Speech by the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Carola Schouten, at the Trilateral Governmental Conference on the Protection of the Wadden Sea

Speech by the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Carola Schouten, at the Trilateral Governmental Conference on the Protection of the Wadden Sea,  Leeuwarden, 18 May 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

Good morning. It’s an honour for me to be here, as the host of this conference in Leeuwarden.

This beautiful city still has the sea in its DNA. Up to the Middle Ages, the Wadden Sea stretched out an arm all the way to Leeuwarden.

And today, it’s the backdrop to our 13th trilateral conference.

From Germany, I’d like to welcome my counterpart, Svenja Schulze, as well as state secretaries Anke Erdmann from Schleswig-Holstein and Frank Doods from Niedersachsen, and senator Jens Karsten from Hamburg.

I’d also like to welcome my counterpart from Denmark, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, and the representatives from Mauritania and South Korea.

In 2016 the Wadden Sea was chosen by the Dutch people as our country’s most beautiful nature reserve.

So when I became a minister in November 2017, I had a few things on my wish list. One was to experience mudflat walking. I did not do it yet, but I am aiming to. It goes back to my youth. When I saw people on tv walking in the Sea. I was so amazed and thought about how it must feel so empowering. Now I am here and I received an invitation to go mudflat walking. Something I am really working forward to. 

We are temporarily given access to the home of the ten thousand animal species that live in the Wadden Sea.

It humbles you as a human being, to walk on the seabed for just a few hours, before the water reclaims it again. 

And it makes us more aware of our place in the world. We’re guests on this planet, and have a duty to take care of it – for all its inhabitants. 

Trilateral cooperation

And that’s what our trilateral cooperation is all about.

We have a shared responsibility to preserve the Outstanding Universal Values of this area. Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands stand shoulder to shoulder in watching over this sea. On behalf of the world.

We’ve accomplished a lot in 40 years of partnership.
And we’re broadening that partnership by supporting and working with private initiatives. Ultimately, we want everyone to work together: islanders, mainlanders, fishermen, mudflat walkers, wildlife managers, startups, multinationals, local governments, seaports, NGOs and many others. So I’m delighted that so many different organisations are here today.

Everybody is welcome to join us as we try to maintain a balance between conserving and enjoying our Wadden Sea.

World Heritage

And that’s more important than ever, since the whole Wadden Sea was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. I believe this a great honour. This will help us showcase the Wadden Sea to the world. And, in the years ahead, the steady flow of tourists will increase.

We should apply the same principle as with mudflat walking: something to be enjoyed, but in moderation, so that others can enjoy it too. Both now and in the future. We want to make sure that this is tourism with a small footprint – so we don’t trample the beauty everybody wants to experience.

That’s why, together, we set up the International Wadden Sea School. It’s helped to educate thousands of Dutch, Danish and German children. They learn that there’s more than meets the eye, and get to see what happens beneath the surface of the sea – in the depths and on the seabed. It’s important to instil this knowledge in them, because they will inherit this treasure and the responsibilities that come with it.

Later today, the Wadden Sea Strategy on Education will be signed. I’m delighted that so many organisations are sharing the responsibility of contributing to this world heritage education.

But it’s not just triumphs that we share. We also share great challenges.


We’ve been working trilaterally on the Swimway Action Programme, to reverse the alarming decline in fish stocks. Large predatory fish, for example, have almost disappeared from the Dutch part of the Wadden Sea. So I’m pleased that many organisations have joined us in this effort.

Breeding Birds

And in 2016, we launched the Action Plan for Breeding Birds. Thanks to our trilateral monitoring and the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative, we know that migratory and breeding bird numbers are declining, partly due to the rising sea level. We want to play our part in tackling this problem. Because the Wadden Sea is a temporary home to millions of birds on their travels to and from places like Siberia, Canada, Scandinavia and Africa. In the Netherlands we’ve also developed a national plan, with projects like creating additional predator-free breeding areas and calling on visitors to respect the temporary closure of certain areas. 

It comes down to this: we humans have the responsibility to protect the home we share with many other living species. And, sometimes, that means taking a step back to give nature more space.

CO2 neutral

In our trilateral cooperation, we also want to play our part in the Paris Agreement, by contributing to higher environmental goals. In fact, we’ve set the bar higher than most: we want to be CO2 neutral by 2030. For example, by using intelligent berthing to reduce ferry exhaust emissions, installing solar parks and using the islands as a living lab to test various sustainable energy concepts. 


An innovative approach is also needed to tackle

one of the saddest manifestations of human impact on the environment: plastic soup.

Several startups are here today to tell us about cleaning up the Wadden Sea Islands. Yesterday, Marius Smit told us about cleaning up the canals and the oceans. Marius owns a plastic fishing company. And he’s the only entrepreneur in the world who desperately wants to go out of business – because he wants our water to be plastic free!

And later today, primary school children will show us the fashion items they’ve created with waste from the sea.
As you can see, this is a problem that resonates with a lot of people, young and old, activists and scientists, from the private and public sector.

International Wadden Sea World Heritage

Because there are so many different ways in which we use the sea: as a natural resource, a highway for industrial shipping,  sustainable fishery and tourism.

More and more people want to be involved in protecting this shared space.

That’s why we are inviting more and more people and organisations to join us. And we will keep welcoming anyone who’s interested in conserving and enjoying the Wadden Sea.

Pass the baton

But first, I’ll pass the baton to Germany, who for four decades has been our partner in protecting the sea. My country has chaired our partnership for the past four years, and today is the last day of our chairmanship. 

And so it’s time for me to step down and leave the stage. But before I do, let me just express one last wish.

Minister Schouten bij Waddenconferentie / Darksky
Image: ©Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit / Martijn Beekman

That’s my wish: to see a dark, starry sky.

An increasingly rare sight in today’s fast-changing world, with our light-polluted skies.

I don’t want future generations only to know purple, yellow or orange skies.

So this is what I hope we can pass on: that our grandchildren will still see the twinkle of stars light years away. That they will still walk on mudflats, despite the impact of climate change. And that we leave them a healthy Wadden Sea. A sea with clean water and thriving shellfish beds, where birds, fish and mammals can live in peace and quiet. A sea that all can sustainably enjoy. 

I wish you all a pleasant conference!

Thank you.