The Dutch Delta, which has shaped the Netherlands, is under severe pressure from expanding human activities. Yet its deltas and estuaries are crucial for coastal defense, absorbing pollutants and as habitat for many species.
The Netherlands is located at the end of three important European rivers: the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt. As a consequence, the Netherlands has to a large extent been governed by deltas and estuaries.
NIOZ Yerseke, home to the department of Estuarine and Delta Systems (EDS), is located in the southern Dutch Delta, on the Eastern Scheldt.
The natural landscape of the Dutch Delta was made up of open or vegetated wetlands under tidal influence – a landscape shaped by the interactions between physical and biological processes
Today, not much of this pristine landscape remains. In the southern Dutch Delta, in the provinces of Zeeland and Zuid-Holland, much of the original intertidal marshes and tidal flats have been lost. They have been replaced by the extensive embankments for which the Netherlands is famous, while the closure of sea-arms has turned much of the former Delta into lakes.
Increasing economic pressure still continues to degrade estuary habitats, for instance by dredging of waterways to facilitate ever-larger ships.
Yet parts of the ecologically valuable tidal flats and wetlands still remain.
It is increasingly realised that estuarine salt marshes and tidal flats provide important services to our society, as they absorb wave energy to provide protection against stormy seas.
Vice versa, wetlands absorb and transform human nutrients and waste products, thereby protecting the sea against our polluting society. This makes it of crucial importance to conserve the few wetlands that remain, and to restore wetlands in areas where it is most direly needed.
The EDS department in Yerseke works on a better understanding of these estuarine and tidal landscapes, with major questions such as:
When we better understand the dynamics of these communities, they may prove a very useful natural and biologically rich component of our coastal defense.
For more information about NIOZ research in the Dutch Delta, please contact prof. dr. Johan van de Koppel.