Test Design Lighthouse

Study on the sustainable preservation of beaches at the Baltic Sea coast

The beaches of the Baltic Sea coast are subject to extensive use by tourists, whose intense bathing practices hardly give the local vegetation and wildlife a chance to survive. Coastal protection or bird conservation is often still respected, while in contrast the other domestic flora and fauna are seldom considered. Many beach goers do not know what scuttles beneath their bathing towel.


Previous investigations have shown that even limited use of a beach diminishes and alters the composition of the biodiversity of wildlife. While seldom-seen species of ground beetle disappeared, such as the dune tiger beetle (Cicindela maritima), robust species from field habitats prevailed on heavily frequented beaches. Investigations of vegetation on Baltic Sea beaches likewise uncovered critical differences between frequented and unfrequented beaches in terms of coverage and species composition of the plants.


The project “Development of a concept for sustainable preservation of beaches at the Baltic Sea coast” from the Institute for Ecosystem Research, Applied Ecology Department, at Kiel University, addresses this problem. Different studies were conducted into the conditions for survival of the various beach species.


Semi-natural beach vegetation that is only restricted by high tide levels in the lower region.
An intensively used stretch of beach, with rudimentary beach vegetation in the higher area in front of the beach barrier.

Investigations into the intensity of foot traffic are carried out to evaluate the use of the beaches by people. For this, areas on the beach are regularly levelled, and the footprints that accrue over the course of the day are documented. The ability of the plants to withstand tread is determined by recording the state of the vegetation on beaches of varying use. In addition, experimental tests on how typical beach plants react to various tread pressures should also be performed. For this purpose, sea kale (Crambe maritime), sea sandwort (Honckenya peploides), European searocket (Cakile maritime) and spear-leaved orache (Atriplex prostrate) are being cultivated at the Botanical Garden at Kiel University. In Spring, they will be planted on the three Baltic Sea beaches and intentionally subjected to varying intensities of tread. The beaches available for this purpose are at the mouth of the Schlei, in the Schmoel coastal area, and on the shore of a small inland lake near Behrensdorf. Through these diverse experiments, concrete statements can be made about the resistance of the individual plant species and their germination rate under natural conditions.


Parallel investigations are examining the spatial requirements of beach-dwelling wolf spiders. The large wolf spider (Arctosa cinerea) has established its presence on the Baltic Sea coast. It is one of the largest species of spider in Germany and is otherwise found along waterways that have a bed of loose gravel, such as those in the foothills of the Alps (Framenau et al. 1996). Smaller wolf spiders, for example Arctosa perita and Pardosa agricola, that likewise inhabit beaches, are also included in the investigation. There is a need to clarify whether the habitable space available in the protected areas is sufficient to ensure the survival of these species on the beach in the long-term. At the three investigation sites, wildlife is regularly caught on a stretch of beach 150m long and marked using Opalith identification tags. This way, the pattern of movement and spatial requirements can be defined for each individual spider and conclusions can be drawn on the land requirements of the smallest survivable population.


A part of this project concerned itself with the attempt to re-settle the dune tiger beetle, in order to bolster the last remaining population of the insect on the Schleswig-Holstein Baltic Sea coast. In 2011, 20 specimens of a stable population from List (on the island of Sylt) were, for the first time, introduced to the protected coastal area in Schmoel. The development of this fledgling population will be documented in the years to follow. The results of this will be included in the assessment of the spatial requirements of populations of beach habiting fauna.


The results of the investigations are to be used in cooperation with the local municipalities to develop a concept that ensures the survival of domestic species, as well as the use of the beach by tourists. This concept for sustainable preservation of beaches at the Baltic Sea coast should consider the interests of all beach users, contain flexible solutions and be adaptable to local conditions.




Project partner:

Prof. Ulrich Irmler

Institut für Ökosystemforschung

Abteilung: Angewandte Ökologie

Olshausenstrasse 75

24118 Kiel



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