Endangered Wilderness in the Heart of Europe: The Szczecin Lagoon is "Threatened Lake of the Year 2024"


Endangered Wilderness in the Heart of Europe: The Szczecin Lagoon is "Threatened Lake of the Year 2024"

The Global Nature Fund and the Living Lakes Network nominate the Szczecin Lagoon on the border of Poland and Germany as "Threatened Lake of the Year 2024". Stunning wetland in the heart of Europe suffers from multiple pressures. The Szczecin Lagoon in the Oder delta is the first European wetland to receive the title.

An ecological hub on the German-Polish border: the Szczecin Lagoon is home to a colorful variety of animals and plants that can hardly be found anywhere else in Central Europe.© Florian Möllers – Rewilding Europe

Radolfzell/ Szczecin, 02 February 2024: The Oder gained Europe-wide notoriety in August 2022, when a mass die-off of fish made headlines. In the end, the entire course of 840 km long river was affected, stopping right before the Oder delta with the Szczecin Lagoon at its heart. Located between Germany and Poland, where the Oder meets the Baltic Sea, the Szczecin Lagoon plays a key role in preserving the biodiversity of the southern Baltic. It is one of the few ecologically widely unspoiled natural areas of Central Europe and a spawning ground for species requiring fresh and salt water. At a strategic crossing point of the East Atlantic Flyway, the Oder delta is crucial for migratory birds and the blue heart of one of Europe`s first Rewilding areas.
Nature pearl in an adverse environment
The 2022 fish die-off highlights a problem which existed long before: for decades the Szczecin Lagoon has been threatened by significant pollution from surrounding industries and nutrient inputs from industrial and agricultural activities in the vicinity and upstream, making the water body more vulnerable to the dangers of multi-causal pressures, even fostered by climate change. In recent years, shipping has increased in the area, both in terms of traffic and vessel size, adding more pressure to the lagoon waters. Drawing attention to the vulnerable state of this unique ecosystem in the heart of Europe, the international environmental foundation Global Nature Fund (GNF) and the global lake network Living Lakes are awarding the Szczecin Lagoon the title of "Threatened Lake of the Year 2024" on today’s World Wetlands Day.
Conservationist Dr Thomas Schaefer, who is in charge of the units of Nature Conservation and Living Lakes at GNF, explains the choice: "The Oder delta with the Szczecin Lagoon in its centre are among the few examples of remnants of untouched wilderness in Europe. The Oder River is one of the last rivers in Europe following natural dynamics in an almost untouched bed. The catastrophe from summer 2022 with an uncountable impact on the biodiversity and the entire wetland system, shows the vulnerability of our nature pearls in an adverse environment. This must not repeat – not in the Oder delta and nowhere else."
The Oder Delta is representative of the ecological status of water bodies in Europe. According to the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which has been in force since 2000, good ecological status should have been achieved by 2015 – which has not been met by any EU Member State. There are only four years left to meet the new deadline of December 31, 2027. With the nomination of a transboundary wetland in Europe, the GNF and the Living Lakes Network want to draw attention to the urgent need for action within the EU and demand the timely implementation of the WFD and other related laws.
Transboundary strategy for law enforcement and ecological restoration required
Immediate and comprehensive action from both Germany and Poland is needed to improve the ecological status of the Oder delta and the lagoon waters in the short term. Everything must be done to stop the current overloading of the water ecosystems and allow the vulnerable ecosystems to regenerate. The implementation of national and European legislation must be secured, particularly the EU Habitats Directive, the EU Water Framework Directive, and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
An important step towards the sound protection and development of the Oder delta in the long term is a long-pending transboundary strategy between Germany and Poland for the natural regeneration of the Szczecin Lagoon. This connectivity is crucial to revitalising the lagoon as an important habitat for migratory fish such as sturgeon and maraena whitefish, as well as transitional biotopes as a habitat for priority protected species after the EU Habitats Directive. No-take fishing zones and a Sturgeon Action Plan for Germany and Poland must accompany activities to restore fish stocks of important species like the Atlantic salmon, Baltic sturgeon and eel.
Another important measure is to strengthen natural water retention in the floodplain. This way, important ecosystem services like water storage and natural filters can be revitalised, and natural flood protection can be improved by restoring floodplains with riparian forests and peat land on a large scale.
First European "Threatened Lake of the Year"

The GNF and the Living Lakes Network announce the "Threatened Lake of the Year" every year on World Wetlands Day to draw attention to the global threat to lakes and wetlands. Lake Titicaca was the "Threatened Lake of the Year 2023", and the Szczecin Lagoon in the Oder delta is the first European wetland to receive the title.

Learn more about Living Lakes
Global Nature Fund
Dr Thomas Schaefer
Head of Living Lakes & Nature Conservation
Fritz-Reichle-Ring 4
D-78315 Radolfzell
Phone: +49 7732 9995 85
E-Mail: schaefer@globalnature.org



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