The number of reported Vibrio-related wound infections associated with recreational bathing in Northern Europe has increased within the last decades. In order to study the health risk from potentially pathogenic Vibrio spp. in the central Wadden Sea, the seasonal and spatial distribution of Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Vibrio alginolyticus and Vibrio cholerae were investigated at ten recreational beaches in this area over a 2-year period. V. alginolyticus and V. parahaemolyticus were found to be omnipresent all year round in the study area, while V. vulnificus occurrence was restricted to summer months in the estuaries of the rivers Ems and Weser. Multiple linear regression models revealed that water temperature is the most important determinant of Vibrio spp. occurrence in the area. Differentiated regression models showed a species-specific response to water temperature and revealed a particularly strong effect of even minor temperature increases on the probability of detecting V. vulnificus in summer. In sediments, Vibrio spp. concentrations were up to three orders of magnitude higher than in water. Also, V. alginolyticus and V. parahaemolyticus were found to be less susceptible towards winter temperatures in the benthic environment than in the water, indicating an important role of sediments for Vibrio ecology. While only a very small percentage of tested V. parahaemolyticus proved to be potentially pathogenic, the presence of V. vulnificus during the summer months should be regarded with care.