Among the many fascinating Dutch cruising areas, the Wadden Sea with its unique and highly diverse wildlife holds a special place. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2009 (Dutch and German parts), this intertidal area with its ever-changing tidal flats and wetlands is very beloved by all sorts of visitors. The widely used term sustainable sailing is very appropriate here. Sailing in the Wadden sea requires the obvious attention for the tides – but equally important, the capacity to simply keep an eye on the so called Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA). Part of those sensitive area zones is closed for pleasure craft or commercial traffic at all times. Other parts, especially bird’s and mammal’s breeding places, are navigable at certain times yet totally off-limits at others. The trick with cruising in marine reserves of course is to have a clear picture about where you can sail with your ship without causing damage and how to move.
A planet-friendly sailor is a well informed sailor! Here is an interactive, web based overview of the sensitive and protected Wadden Sea areas. And for leisure charts in paper edition covering the Dutch Wadden region where such protected areas would show up as clearly designated zones, see chart #1811 for the Western part and #1812 for the Eastern part of the Wadden Sea. 1811 is aboard our Flevo Sailing yachts per default. You can get your own edition here and at many other vendors (most marina shops have those charts, too). Quote from their website: “The 1800-series charts are issued mainly for smaller SOLAS shipping and recreational purposes. The series consist of 8 atlases with an average of 9 charts (loose-leaf). The charts cover the Netherlands and Belgian coast, the Wadden Sea, the IJsselmeer and the Zeeland delta area.” Also definitely worth a read is the info section of the Dutch Wadden Sea area published by Dutch Ecomare. They advise on sensible behaviour in the sanctuary zones.
What’s so special and sensitive about Wadden Sea nature?
The Wadden Sea features an exceptionally fine-tuned marine and terrestrial ecosystem which is constantly changing. Some areas there serve as important stopover for millions of migratory birds on their journey towards South and back to our Northern regions, as well as breeding ground. The same area is also vital for the seals living on and near the Wadden islands.
The Dutch Common Wadden Sea Secretariat has a great informative website about the Wadden area, in 3 languages including English. They got a section about sustainable tourism there. You have many options for fantastic nature sightseeing tours, water or land based, at the Wadden Sea. Some of them are guided excursions, highly recommended. The sustainable tourism section presents a selection of them.
Here is a fact that many sailors with best intentions are still totally unaware of:
The problem with humans interfering with nature in this region (and many others) is not just about stirring up some of those cute, heart-warming fat seals from their lazy sleep in the sun. Or chase a birdie away from its place so that it can land a few metres further down the beach – and possibly laugh at your dog. Also, it won’t make any difference if you “move especially slowly and carefully”. Much more is at stake if humans get near the animals. Example seals, here is a very clear explanation what really can go terribly wrong when we disturb the seals at their nursing places (highlighting done by the author):
“When a mammalian mother gives birth there is an immediate post natal bonding period during which there is an exchange of tactile, olfactory or auditory stimuli between mother and infant which establishes the initial bond between them. Pinniped mothers all give birth on shore and therefore this bonding occurs onshore. Harbour seal mothers and pups have a post natal bonding period of up to an hour or so during which there is repeated and reciprocal nose to body contact (Lawson & Renouf 1985; S. Wilson unpublished data). Human disturbance during this critical period may cause flushing of mother or both mother and pup into the water. The pup may be left behind as the mother and neighbouring seals re-enter the water, or there may be confusion of mother neonate identity in the water. Disturbance during this critical post-natal period is likely to lead to failure of mother pup bonding and therefore permanent separation of the pup…
Pup vocalisations are individually distinct and also critical to maintaining contact between mother and pup in the water and for facilitating reunion if mother and pup become separated by up to 1km …. However, ten neonates observed by Lawson and Renouf (1985) did not call for several hours after birth and therefore the critical period during which disturbance may cause permanent ‘orphaning’ of harbour seal pups may last perhaps for the first tidal cycle after the birth. Instances of actual disturbance known to result directly in neonatal orphans have not been described in the literature, but have been assumed by the finding of such newborn pups of healthy birth weight alone on haul out beaches where human disturbance is frequent.” The full source of that text is here.
What happens to the young ones once separated from their mother? They stray around in the sea, without protection, orientation or food. Some of them are luckier and are found in time. See the video below. Above named Ecomare at Wadden island Texel is one centre where they are eventually brought to recover and then grow up. Pieterburen, situated at the Northern mainland coast South-East from the Wadden island Schiermonnikoog, is another one.
Is there hard scientific evidence that humans cause the separation of seal mother and babies in most cases? Well, it’s just like with the growing numbers of whales stranding at the coasts of our seas “without clear explanation”. Does that have anything to do with the increasing sound pollution of the seas? Have flooding and storms become more frequent, or is it all completely normal and your memory of real seasons just a bit hazy? We can have never-ending discussions about it. But why not keep it simple instead: Just using our common sense when having fun outdoors is one smart thing everyone of us can do – and that can just never hurt.
KNRM, the Dutch Liefeboat people, rescuing a baby seal which was found alone, clinging to a buoy.
It was only 2 days old and very “skinny”. KNRM had spotted it by pure chance while they were returning from a different action. They brought it to a seal nursery centre at Dutch Pieterburen.