The Dutch Wadden Sea: a changed ecosystem

  • de Jonge V
  • Essink K
  • Boddeke R
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Since 1600 the surface area of the Dutch Wadden Sea decreased considerably by successive reclamations of saltmarshes. In 1932 the Zuiderzee (3200 km2) was closed off from the Wadden Sea causing in the remaining part an increase in tidal range and current velocities. In 1969 the Lauwerszee (91 km2) was closed off and turned into a freshwater lake as well. Man's use of the Wadden Sea changed simultaneously. Dredging in harbours and shipping routes, and extraction of sand and shells became common practice. Extraction of sand increased manifold between 1960 and 1985. These activities did contribute to the turbidity of the Wadden Sea water. Discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds into the western Wadden Sea increased also manifold since 1950, causing an increase in phytoplankton production, duration of phytoplankton blooms, and intertidal macrozoobenthic biomass. Loads of metals and organochlorine contaminants entering the Wadden Sea were hard to estimate. Fisheries changed drastically since the 1930's. Fishing for 'Zuiderzee' herring came to an end shortly after closing off the Zuiderzee. The anchovy fishery ceased in the 1960', that for flounder in 1983. Undersized brown shrimps were fished until 1971. Selective shrimptrawls and sorting devices with flushing seawater were introduced to reduce mortality among young flatfish and shrimps. Oysters became extinct in the 1960's due to over-exploitation of the natural beds. Production of mussels increased more than ten times between 1950 and 1961 due to 'culturing', catches of cockles increased slowly between 1955 and 1984. Whelks were fished until 1970. The most important changes in the biotic system of the Wadden Sea, increased production of microalgae and intertidal macrozoobenthos, can be attributed to increased nutrient loads. Eutrophication provided ample food supply for mussels which are harvested mainly by man and eider duck, and may have caused also increased growth in juvenile plaice. Increased turbidity may have impaired life conditions for adult dab, and have prevented also recovery of sublittoral eelgrass beds after their disappearance in the 1930's due to the 'wasting disease'. Increased turbidity in the Wadden Sea is probably caused by closing off the Zuiderzee (1932), a significant increase of dredge spoil disposal near Hoek van Holland between 1970 and 1983, and a more than 10-fold increase of mussel culturing in the Wadden Sea since 1950. Stocks of. several bird species breeding in the Wadden Sea area suffered great losses in the early 1960's due to a pesticide accident. Most of the breeding populations have recovered. PCB's caused a reproduction failure among harbour seals in the 1970's. Since 1980 official Dutch policy aims at multiple use of the Wadden Sea, with emphasis on protection and restoration of the natural environment. The 3rd Water Management Plan (1989) aims at a development of the Wadden Sea ecosystem towards the situation of ca. 1930, i.e. without undoing present sea dikes and reclaimed polders. Management of the Dutch Wadden Sea will therefore have to focus mainly on reduction of eutrophication, pollution and turbidity. Some management options are discussed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Dutch Wadden Sea
  • coastal engineering
  • dredging
  • ecosystem
  • fisheries
  • management

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