Harald Marencic: “We are the guardians of the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site”

Harald Marencic has been with the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat for 27 years. At the end of May 2023, he will retire. In the following interview, we look back on milestones of his career. In June, his colleague Soledad Luna will take over his responsibilities as Programme Officer Wadden Sea World Heritage. The whole CWSS team thanks Harald for his years of service and wish him all the best for the next chapter of his life.


Harald, you started working for the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat in 1995. What brought you to the Wadden Sea initially?

My first professional connection with the Wadden Sea was in 1986. Back then, I worked in Hamburg on research projects on the distribution of hazardous substances in the Wadden Sea, also subject of my PhD thesis and related to the topic of monitoring. At the German Federal Agency for Shipping and Hydrology, I continued working on marine protection and supported in the preparation of the OSPAR North Sea quality status report, which connected me with many marine and Wadden Sea research institutions. In 1992, s project at the National Park Authority Lower Saxon Wadden Sea on fundamental and applied research of the Wadden Sea ecosystem brought me to Wilhelmshaven and introduced me to people whom I’ve had the privilege of working with for most of my professional life. Jens Enemark, the first Secretary of the Trilateral Cooperation, was one of them. He hired me for CWSS in 1995.


What would you count as the big achievements in your CWSS career?

Setting up and bringing the Trilateral Monitoring and Assessment Programme (TMAP) to life was my first big challenge. The project built upon my previous experience and connections. Still, we stepped onto new territory in our monitoring approach. We defined issues of concerns from which we derived monitoring parameters needed for management, for example on pollution, eutrophication, use of salt marshes, and climate change. It was a lengthy and challenging process of networking, defining thematic fields and parameters, and introducing pilots. A coordinated data management, set up by my colleague Gerold Lüerßen, was an integral part of TMAP from the beginning to ensure that the collected data could be jointly processed and analysed – a huge challenge to this day. But we also have reached major accomplishments. Before 1997, there were only few consistent long-term data sets on the Wadden Sea, such as for seal and bird populations. Now we have a data pool that goes back almost three decades – a treasure of data that also weighed into the decision of the World Heritage Committee in 2009. Sure, adapting monitoring and data handling requires constant attention and with each QSR we readjust parameters and research questions. But we have come a long way and successfully shifted mindsets from keeping data locked up to recognising the added value for one’s research when freely sharing them.

The inscription as a World Heritage Site is another significant achievement, in which CWSS played an important role. It was already decided in 1991 at the Esbjerg Conference that the Wadden Sea should apply for World Heritage designation. However, it took ten years before the idea was taken up again. In 2001, discussions started with different stakeholders in the regions. People were concerned about new restrictions such a designation would bring. It took many discussions and negotiation, but in 2005 the three countries officially decided that Germany and the Netherlands would apply, while the Danish partners would be kept informed during the process. Four years later, the World Heritage Committee put the Wadden Sea on the World Heritage List. I view the application as a very wise decision, not only to strengthen the protection of the Wadden Sea but also the collaboration between the three states by further developing the TWSC. Thanks to the inscription and the requests from the World Heritage Committee, we have enlarged our circle of partners to further sectors, worked on new projects such as the sustainable tourism strategy, and improved our visibility as guardians of the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. Nature protection is not an issue of natural science – it relies on social science. This is also something recognised in the World Heritage Convention, which opened new pathways for the TWSC. The Partnership Hub is an example of how we work with stakeholders in all three countries on enhancing the Wadden Sea’s Outstanding Universal Value.

I would also like to point to the international cooperation we have built up over the years. For me, exchanging ideas and cases was always a source of inspiration and motivation. We have worked with international partners for decades now: With site managers in the Wash/North Norfolk, countries along the East Atlantic Flyway, and, for 20 years now, with the Republic of Korea. The Korean connection is especially dear to me and, in my view, is an excellent example of how we contribute to the international society of managers, researchers, educators, and NGOs – a cornerstone of World Heritage and our responsibility as designated site.


What were the most memorable moments?

One was the Stade Conference in 1997, where TMAP and the Wadden Sea Plan were signed off and we felt exhilarated by the kick-off for these pioneering ideas – a start of a new era, so to speak. Another moment was at the International Scientific Wadden Sea Symposium on monitoring and assessment in Esbjerg in 2005, where the Wadden Sea Quality Status Report was presented. We met with many authors there and I remember receiving heart-warming thanks and recognition for coordinating this work. The Wadden Sea’s designation as World Heritage Site in Sevilla in 2009 and the following unique trilateral awareness campaigns, as well as the extension to other parts in Lower Saxon parts and the Danish Wadden Sea in Doha in 2014 also make the list of highlights, of course. And I fondly think back on the trilateral cycling tour we did for the 10th anniversary of the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site in 2019, where I cycled through rain and sunshine with partners and stakeholders, I usually see in meeting rooms. It was a unique bonding experience.


What are the biggest challenges you see for the Wadden Sea? What is your wish for the Wadden Sea?

Among the various challenges, I believe the most significant are energy transition and climate change adaptation. Current plans foresee the use of energy resources in the North Sea to increase almost tenfold. This massive transition must be accompanied by the TWSC to ensure that the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site remains intact, and cables and pipelines are accumulated to have minimal impact on the ecosystem. We also need to invest more in climate change adaptation. Climate change was already a topic when we started working on TMAP back in 1995 and its significance has only increased. We see how the ecosystem is already changing due to temperature rise, extreme weather events, and sea level rise are expected to have severe impacts. We need to trilaterally address those changes with more strength and based on an ecosystem approach, as there are many other pressures that need to be considered at the same time.


What message would you like to give to your colleagues at CWSS, to the TWSC?

The Common Wadden Sea Secretariat is the constant of this cooperation. While group constellations, presidencies, and governments change, we remain. This is critical for the success of the cooperation and something to be proud of and to demonstrate. My colleagues are in the unique position to keep an eye on long-term strategies and goals. For that we need stamina, and as guardians of the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site we carry a high responsibility. With the current team of diverse experts, I am confident that CWSS will continue to find its own way.

As for the TWSC, I cannot stress enough the importance of working together. Local protection measures are good, but ultimately the quality of one’s own area depends on the quality of the entire region. You can only effectively protect your own area if you also protect the rest of the Wadden Sea. And as a World Heritage Site we need to remember that the world is watching now, and we will be held accountable for the Wadden Sea’s wellbeing. I believe that the added value of the TWSC is that we have this cooperation – I can’t imagine what would happen if we didn’t have it. In the future, communication of our achievements and effective branding as well as gaining opportunities from the extended transboundary partnering will become increasingly important.


After all these years, what does the Wadden Sea mean to you?

The Wadden Sea to me means home and I don’t think that will ever change.