The German coastline includes both the Baltic (to the Northeast) and the North Sea (to the Northwest).  The characteristics of these coastlines differ greatly. The Baltic Coast is characterized by a minimal tidal range and more diverse landscapes of sandy beaches and dunes, chalk cliffs, areas of coastal forest and wetlands. In contrast, the North Sea coast is characterized by the dramatic tidal range of the Wadden Sea and a landscape of mudflats, salt marshes, dunes and moors created from centuries of human intervention. 

As a result of the subsidiarity principle of the federal system, as well as various historical and geographic developments, coastal management in Germany is approached somewhat differently in each state and depending on the geographic context. Our project focuses on the North Sea coast in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, situated in the north of Germany along the border to Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein’s North Sea coastline is approximately 466 km long, consisting of 195 km of mainland coast, 208 km of island coasts, and 63 km of hallig coasts. Centuries of coastal protection and land reclamation have shaped the lowland landscape protected by multiple lines of embankments and polders. The primary embankments, seen as the first line of defence, are owned and maintained by the state and typically between 8 and 9.5 metres high and as wide as 80 metres. These sea embankments protect around 130,000 inhabitants and more than 19 billion Euros of assets from flooding during storm surges. A secondary line of embankments is intended to limit the extent of flooding in the case of a breach. These “regional dikes” are the responsibility of regional embankment and water boards and regulated by the State Water Act.

Climate change is integrated into the Master Plan for Coastal Flood Defence and Coastal Protection and is the focus of an adaptation strategy for the Wadden Sea. Schleswig-Holstein’s plans for adapting to climate change include heightening and alterations in the shape of embankments (“climate dikes”) to protect humans and developed areas increased sea and storm surge levels as well as sand deposition and sediment management to mitigate coastal erosion.