Wildlife Conservation on Europe’s New Coastline

Wildlife Conservation on Europe’s New Coastline

By Dane Gambrell

Rising out of the marshy waters of the Markermeer Lake, five artificial islands make up the newly-constructed archipelago known as Marker Wadden. While the Netherlands has a well-known history of constructing dikes and dams to expand the country’s habitable territory, the Marker Wadden project is unique as a habitat not for Dutch people, but for wildlife. 

Originally part of the Zuiderzee, a saltwater bay of the North Sea, the freshwater Markermeer Lake was created by the construction of the Afsluitdijk Levee, part of an unrealized plan to construct a polder where the lake stands today. While the new land mass was never built, the dam left behind an environmental mess. The stagnated water collected a buildup of silt, causing a disruption to the lake’s ecosystem as algae, plants, and freshwater mollusks began dying out. 

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In 2016, a redevelopment project led by Robert Posthoorn of the conservation group Natuurmonumenten began dredging 30 million cubic meters of silt, sand, and clay from the lake’s bottom to construct a network of reed beds, sandbars, and marshlands. Today, the islands that Posthoorn calls “Europe’s new coastline” are home to 120 species of bird and 170 species of plant, while the larger Nieuw Land National Park, established in 2018, provides a habitat for wild horses, deer, and foxes. 

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The redevelopment project also hopes to attract people to the area. On the archipelago’s only accessible island, four cabins for visitors and a laboratory for researchers are also under construction. Located only 25 kilometers from Amsterdam and an hour-long ferry ride from the port city of Lelystad, Marker Wadden will need to balance its potential as a tourist hotspot with the project’s role as an important center for conservation. 

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Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, CityLab


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