It doesn’t matter what age I am, participating in field trips are so exciting! This was the second field trip organized for the master’s students. Like the start of many field trips, we packed lunch the night before, woke up early in the morning, and sleepily (but excitedly) hopped on the bus from Kolding to the Wadden Sea National Park. In 2014 the Wadden Sea was added to the World Heritage List.
Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.
History and Importance
The Wadden Sea is internationally known as a resting place for millions of migratory birds, and more than 10 million of them pass through the Wadden Sea twice a year. It’s interesting because there is a Dutch, German and Danish part of the national park.
The Wadden Sea is uniquely recognized for being the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world. Before coming, we were told about the tide, rising and falling, allowing for people to essentially walk across the ocean floor at low tide. Without someone guiding us with extensive knowledge about the tide, we could be stuck out on the island.
The World Heritage status is seen as an opportunity for the development of sustainable tourism across the Wadden Sea. It is not about causing conflicts between tourism and nature conservation.
For wildlife, it is considered one of the most important areas for migratory birds in the world. Can you believe that up to 6.1 million birds can be present at a given time and an average of 10+ million pass through the protected area each year?
It was kind of Klaus, our tour guide and steward of the park, to provide our whole group with long green rubber boots. We were told that we would be crossing mud and pools of water and that we would likely get a little bit wet and muddy.
Klaus was accompanied by a student volunteer from Germany, Alex. He is participating in a one-year government funded programme that enables young students to work for the Wadden Sea. He does in between grade 9 and 10. We chat and his hopes are that this year off will bring clarity to his studies and passion for the outdoors and conservation. I’m amazed because, in my opinion, this form of education is so valuable.
All the student hopped on a tractor bus that drove us to an island. The farther the bus moved the more open our landscape felt. The interesting flat, low tide ground felt expansive – stretching beyond the horizon in almost all directions.
Once we got off the bus we walked along the grassland, with flocks of birds on our left and grazing sheep on our right, and blue skies around us.
We walked along the grassland, then came to the edge of the grass where the ground turned to the sea ground. Alex catches my eye as he takes off his long boots and pulls off his socks. “If he does it, so will I!”, I thought to myself.
So I pull off my boots, roll up by pants, and take off my socks and step into the mud. We walk about 6km in the mud.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
There’s a name for this! Mudflat hiking is “walking on the sandy flats at low tide”, which has become popular in the Wadden Sea. I’m called a “Wadden women” because it’s cold, almost numbing to walk along the ground and pools of water with your bare feet. But it felt so good.
Foraging for Oysters
“Wiggle your boots in the mud… now look.” Klaus bends over and scoops his hand in the dark, almost black mud. He holds in his hand small-medium size oysters.
Ale, our Italian friend with a background in gastronomy, excitedly picks up his own oysters. “Lauren! Where is your knife!?”
Carrying a Swiss Army is so handy because who knows when you’re going to find yourself foraging for oysters in the sea. Ale opens the shell and says, “try it… eat it!” So we do, and it’s fresh. There is no doubt that you can taste the freshness and wildness of food.
We spend the afternoon shuffling our boots (and my feet) in puddles and small streams searching for oysters because Ale tells us he will cook for us with what we forage!
Walked to the edge of the coastline and spotted an island in the distance with many, many seals! It was lovely! Klaus and Alex brought powerful binoculars that allowed us to see the seals flopping and rolling around in the sand.
And to end an incredible day, I enjoyed the company of dear friends and food so good I wish I could share it with you. Ale prepares pasta with our (almost) 5kg of clams and oysters. We were told that we could take from the sea what we were able to carry with our hands. I think it’s beautiful to take from nature out of respect for cooking and eat.
It’s hard to comprehend the beauty of something without actually seeing it with your eyes and experiencing it with your own sense. To hear and feel something for yourself is so much more powerful than photos through a screen. The intangible essence of experience beauty is why travel is valuable for me.