The study area is located at the south-western part of the Netherlands and the north-western part of Belgium. It is formed by three major rivers: the Scheldt, the Rhine and Meuse.The delta coast has an overall length of about 100 km and consists of straight regular sandy beaches in the northern part between Hoek van Holland (NL) and The Hague (NL) and an irregular sandy delta coast in the southern part from Hoek van Holland (NL) to Oostende (B). The Delta has various closed tidal inlets and two open tidal inlets (Eastern and Western Scheldt). Formerly all water bodies were in open connection. The Western Scheldt is still functioning as estuary of the transboundary river Scheldt (Zeeschelde). At many locations the coast is backed by relatively strong and wide dunes. At some locations only one single relatively weak dune row exists and at other locations dune rows are absent and replaced by dikes. The large-scale mouth of the Scheldt estuary has relatively strong in- and outgoing tidal currents. The Delta area covers a wider area since it is connected through the transboundary catchments of Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt with major economic areas in Europe.
Two major European centres of naval transport and industry – Rotterdam and Antwerp – fringe a coastal countryside where recreation, agriculture and aquaculture are dominant economic activities. Main human activities in the delta area include coastal engineering/shore line protection against flooding in all water bodies, agriculture freshwater runoff and outlets, shipping at the harbour facilities, tourism, shellfish cultures and land reclamation for port development.
The overall policy issue in this densely populated Delta is how to achieve a truly sustainable development of the area. The aim is to achieve a balance between regional economic development, social well-being and restoration of ecological values. Important issues are how to sustain regional economic growth, to harmonize port accessibility, to match sustainable coastal and riverine tidal defence systems, with port accessibility, recreation demands and urban development, to cope with regional pressures, to improve the ecological integrity and to ensure the freshwater supply on the Delta islands.