Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wadden Sea

This week we were on the north coast of Germany, on the island of Juist between the Wadden Sea and the North Sea. The Wadden Sea is basically the stretch of land and sea between the barrier islands and the North Sea. Germans traditionally know this area as the Wattenmeer. The most direct translation of wattenmeer to english is “mud flat sea,” a name which is, frankly, a PR downer. I think "Wadden Sea" was appropriated relatively recently to save face. In 2011, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011. According to UNESCO, the Wadden Sea is “one of the last remaining large-scale, intertidal ecosystems where natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed” and it “encompasses a multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment, and is rich in species specially adapted to the demanding environmental conditions.” 

The Wadden Sea is actually a pretty cool place, especially if you are fascinated by visibly changing landscapes. The sea stretches from the Netherlands through Germany to Denmark. On the outermost edge are barrier islands lined with fine, beautiful sand, then the dunes of the islands, then saltwater marshland, then mudflats that flood during the changing tide, and finally, the mainland. About 170 specially adapted animal/insect species live in the saltwater meadows and over 2000 different species of plants that have adapted living here. These species are non-competitive, meaning if you placed them somewhere else, they would be overtaken by the native species. They can only live, without competition, in the freshwater/saltwater land.

The barrier island of Juist (pronounced “Yoost”) has long been a vacation destination for Germans, although it is not among the most visited of the East Frisian Islands. Fritz visited it in 1976. He has always had such fond memories that I thought we should visit it with our children. Juist is reachable by ship only at high tide. (Otherwise, there’s not enough water for a boat and you need to take a plane.) There are no cars allowed on Juist, making it less popular and more remote than the neighboring islands, but ideal for visitors with children looking to avoid the worst of the beach crowds. All the transportation on Juist occurs by horse or bicycle. Fritz said it has changed a lot since the 1970s. It is my impression that tourism and development of the island are occurring VERY slowly and deliberately. To put it in perspective: 20,000 people visit Juist each year, while the neighboring island of Norderney may have that same number in a single day. I think the slow pace of development is very cool; it means Juist feels like an undiscovered secret, maybe like the Cinque Terre were before Rick Steves "discovered" them.

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