The survival of the Wadden Sea, Netherlands, is in question

The Guardian reports, 16th June 2017: The world’s largest unbroken intertidal system of sand and mud flats could sink beneath the waves by the end of the century due to sea level rise and subsidence caused by gas drills.

The Unesco world heritage site at the Wadden Sea on the Dutch coast stretches over 10,000 sq km. Its saltmarshes, sandy shoals, dunes and mussel beds host millions of migratory birds every year, as well as thousands of basking seals.

But the storm-weathered Frisian coastline may be living on borrowed time. One report this month predicted that it would be submerged by 2100 if current global warming trends and planned gas extractions continue.

“It is more likely that the area will drown than that it will survive,” said Rolf Schuttenhelm, the paper’s author. “The equation is quite simple. If sea level rise and subsidence combined are larger than the maximum speed of sedimentation — and they are — then with time, the drowning of the tidal system becomes inevitable.”

Geese, oystercatchers, spoonbills, pelicans and flamingoes would lose their havens if the flats disappeared. The loss would also sound a death knell for communities which have lived for millennia behind the dykes that dot the Friesland coast.

Natural subsidence and gas drills are depressing the Frisian territory, which is mostly below sea level. The North Sea is also rising by 1.8mm a year, a rate likely to accelerate as climate change takes hold. NAM, a Shell-Exxon partnership, plans to start a gas drilling operation next year and three other wells could soon follow. Local people from 14 villages have formed a movement to resist them.

“It’s all about money,” said Willem Schoorstra, an award-winning Frisian novelist from the group. “We had one talk with NAM and they constantly repeated that they would help us make the clean energy transition. But it’s crap. We don’t buy it. They only want to invest in it when they are drilling. They hold on to their old ways and destroy everything for the sake of money.”

Beneath such talk is an attachment to the low-lying, ancient ground on which Romans, Vikings and Franks have trodden.

The Wadden Sea tide ebbs and flows twice a day, bringing sand, silt and nutrients which blanket the mud flats in algae. This holds the sand banks together and provides food for the shellfish and smaller creatures that feed the birds and make the ecosystem’s life cycle turn.

NAM argues that it can contain subsidence by keeping “a hand on the tap” — to turn their operations off if geological monitoring shows cavities appearing which might not be filled by sedimentation. But the geological processes at work can take years to become apparent, and NAM’s technical blueprint was dismissed by the government’s mines supervisory board last week for a second time. NAM now has until November to address their report’s shortcomings, after which it could face fines of €500,000 a week.

Subsidence of 1mm a year under the flats and 3-4mm a year under the salt marshes had taken place since 2006 as a result of the 25 wells drilled in the Wadden Sea area since 1985.

 

Source: The Guardian, 16th June 2017. For the full details, see www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/gas-grab-and-global-warming-could-wipe-out-wadden-sea-heritage-site

 


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