Wadlopen (mudflat hiking)
In the year 1287, a fierce storm and flood claimed the lives of around 50.000 victims. The flood was to be known as the St. Lucia flood, after Lucia which derives from lux, meaning light. As a result of the flood, an area of chewed-up marshlands was transformed into an intertidal area called the Zuiderzee, or South Sea. This inland Sea was bordered with sandy islands, called the North Sea Islands for a long time. Griend is one of the only real Wadden Islands. Historically Griend (also called Grien or Grint) was a dune with a few houses on top. Driven by water and wind, the island moved (through erosion and accumulation of sand) south-eastwards. The island walked away from the place where it first entered history books as a stepping stone for monks trying to escape the mainland. The island got smaller and smaller, and for a century (after 1916) efforts have been made to preserve it. Now it is presented as a feat of water management, a paradise for birds (crowned with an observatory), and a temporary home for rangers in the birds’ breeding season. Amateur birdwatchers look at Griend with envy, as the island is off-limits to all except the rangers. The cultural philosophy of people watching animals that are watching people fascinates us.
Ever since disaster resulted in the creation of the Wadden Sea, the sea bottom has never been left alone. De soil is full of holes, for example those drilled for the geological survey of the Zuiderzee-vereniging, and later drilling for natural gas and salt. Recently, a grid of 4200 small wells was drilled by the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. All together, the seafloor is riddled with small craters. One is left wondering what exactly is protected by the status of the Wadden Sea as an Unesco World Heritage Site. The official answer is a wafer-thin layer, just the area between 15 meters above and 15 meters below NAP (average sea level). Further below sea level lie natural resources such as water, salt, warmth, magnetism – all too deep to be registered World Heritage. Also invisible to the naked eye is the repository of oil and gas, once vegetable remains. Despite their respectable age of 300 million years old, they are not Unesco World Heritage. The sleeping volcano of the island of Vlieland, a crater about 150 million years young – also not World Heritage. And the clouds? Or the birds flying above that 15 meter boundary?
Guide: Jan Abrahamse (1937-2013)
Jan Abrahamse was an early Wadden expert, engaged in social geography as a cartographer for the Bosatlas, an obliged book for dutch schoolchildren. atlas. In the 1960’s he came to be the leading author on the Wadden area. He was one of the co-founders of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Wadden Sea (1965), and editor of a periodical and later of the magazine Noorderbreedte (1977). We suspect he was behind an exemplary field trip organized in 1968 for 40 students. The students, selected for high grades in geography, were taken at the field trip by professor Ferhan Ormeling, editor in chief for the Bosatlas. The group departed from airbase Eelde in a DC-3 aircraft, flying over Groningen and the Wadden area and back. From the periodical Geografisch Tijdschrift: “Ormeling was equipped for the occasion with a bullhorn borrowed from the Groningen Police… Restlessly he moved back and forth between the left and right side of the plane, so as not to miss a single point of interest: the signs of industrialization based on salt and natural gas, the Eemshaven project, the northernmost part of the mainland, reclaimed land on the Wadden coast, the future of the Wadden islands, the dam that closes of Lauwersmeer from the sea, etc. Whenever the plane was too fast for the speaker, the pilot would patiently circle.” We propose a re-enactment of this field trip, June 2018, the oblique viewpoint having advanced with half a century of flying lessons.
“Walking across the Wadden Sea tidal flats, we are just a few hours before it was covered by meters of water, surrounded by an endless sky that meets the sea at a distant horizon, is an unforgettable experience. It is a truly magical place – come and enjoy with us a life-changing experience of nature … welcome to the Wadden Sea World Heritage.”
Final sentence of the acceptance speech by the Netherlands and Germany, at Sevilla, during the 33th meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (June 2009).