This is "Onbekommerd"!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Het Wad

I have been referring to ‘het Wad’ several times during the Onbekommerd trip, without ever explaining properly what this ‘Wad’ actually is. So lets have an attempt:

Between the Northern coast of the Dutch and NW German mainland and the string of islands to the North of that coast lies a unique ecological system. The Dutch call this the “Waddenzee”, the Germans the “Wattenmeer”. It is a mainly shallow area, which is formed and dominated by the tides, the 6 hourly rise and fall of the sea level (caused by the gravitational influence of sun and moon on the earth’s sea water). Generally it is so shallow that it dries up during low tide and floods again as the water returns. In order to carry the water into and out of this area, there are many channels, big and small. The bigger ones, which mainly lie in between the islands, can be up to 10 or even 20m deep, they split into branches which are smaller and smaller and the smallest ones loose all water at low tide, they ‘fall dry’. Of course the areas between the channels also fall dry, sometimes they are 2 or more m above the water level at low tide. On these shallows, at low tide, birds find millions of tiny sea creatures to feast on. Also, seals lie and ‘sunbathe’ on the shallows for a ‘rest’. The coming and going of all there forms of sea life during the tidal cycle is absolutely fascinating and a unique ecological ‘happening’!

For boats, this area is at the same time a challenging and a fascinating environment. Challenging because you need to find a way through the maze of little channels to get from one point to another without either ‘getting lost’ or running aground unplanned. Fascinating because you can time your passage in a such a way that you have the privilege to witness the birds, the seals and what goes on on the shallows. In addition, one can anchor or even let the boat run dry during low tide, sit in the midst of this spectacle and float off again when the next high tide arrives (we have not done this yet, but it will come!).

Both the Dutch and German areas of ‘het Wad’ are nature reserves and there are strict rules on where you can go with your boat, where you can anchor and where you can let it run dry. As a result of this protection, the seal and bird population have increased enormously: as an example, the seal population in one particular area has increased from 200 to 6000 in the last 10 years. No species are threatened in this area anymore. There is therefore no need to tighten up on the rules and areas, although the ever increasing burocracy keeps on threatening to do just that. The people using the Wad have a ‘code of conduct’, which they strictly adhere to and which ensures that birds and seals are not disturbed during their foraging and resting times at low tide.

Although pictures cannot do justice to this wonderful and fascinating area, here are a few, to show some of the ‘principles’:

These first two pictues show the same channel at high- and at low tide. Notice the little (beech) trees which show where the channel is. Very important to stick close to them!

Two exapmples of the seals and birds you see on the shallows. Sometimes the channel runs 10m from these spots!

"Droogvallen" Litt: 'falling dry': Grounding the boat on purpose before low tide so that it floats off again when the water returns. If you do this at high tide, you may wait a long time before you can leave again as not all tides are equally high!

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