Open Access

Habitat suitability of the Wadden Sea for restoration of Zostera marina beds

  • M.M. van Katwijk,
  • D. C. R. Hermus,
  • D.J. de Jong,
  • R. M. Asmus and
  • V.N. de Jonge
Helgoland Marine Research54:00540117.10152


A conceptual model is proposed, describing potential Zostera marina habitats in the Wadden Sea, based on reported data from laboratory, mesocosm and field studies. Controlling factors in the model are dynamics, degree of desiccation, turbidity, nutrients and salinity. A distinction has been made between a higher and a lower zone of potential habitats, each suitable for different morphotypes of Z. marina. The model relates the decline of Z. marina in the Wadden Sea to increased sediment and water dynamics, turbidity, drainage of sediments (resulting in increased degree of desiccation) and total nutrient loads during the twentieth century. The upper and lower delineation of both the higher and the lower zone of potential Z. marina habitats appear to be determined by one or a combination of several of these factors. Environmental changes in one of these factors will therefore influence the borderlines of the zones. The lower zone of Z. marina will be mainly affected by increased turbidity, sediment dynamics, degree of desiccation during low tide and nutrient load. The higher zone will be affected by increases in water and sediment dynamics, desiccation rates and nutrient loads. Potential Z. marina habitats are located above approx. –0.80 m mean sea level (when turbidity remains at the same level as in the early 1990s) in sheltered, undisturbed locations, and preferably where some freshwater influence is present. At locations with a high, near-marine, salinity, the nutrient load has to be low to allow the growth of Z. marina. The sediment should retain enough water during low tide to keep the plants moist. Our results suggest that the return of Z. marina beds within a reasonable time-scale will require not only suitable habitat conditions, but also revegetation measures, as the changes in the environment resulting from the disappearance of Z. marina may impede its recovery, and the natural import of propagules will be unlikely. Furthermore, the lower zone of Z. marina may require a genotype that is no longer found in the Wadden Sea.

Key words RestorationZostera marinaHabitat suitabilityZonationWadden Sea