On 25th July 2023, the car-carrying cargo ship MV Fremantle Highway caught fire off the coast of the Dutch island of Ameland. The ship was en route from Bremerhaven to Port Said (Egypt) with Singapore as its final destination. It was carrying approximately 3,000 vehicles, presumably destined for sale in Asia. As fuel, the ship was reportedly carrying 1,600 tons of heavy fuel oil and 200 tons of marine diesel oil. Should the ship have sunk or lost structural integrity, long-term environmental damage would have been caused to the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. The heavy oil would have sunk to the bottom of the sea and would have taken decades to degrade. The marine diesel would have remained for longer on the surface and impacted severely on seabird populations, as well as harbour porpoises and seals (NABU). By way of comparison, the wrecking of the Pallas freight ship in October 1998 with 756 tonnes of oil on board, close to the island of Amrum at the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, led to a 20-km long oil spill and the deaths of approximately 16,000 seabirds.
The damaged MV Freemantle Highway en route to the port of Eemshaven, photographed from the coast of Borkum, photo: S. Engler-Walsh.
In September 2022, I co-led a week-long international fieldtrip to the Wadden Sea coast at the border of northern Germany and southern Denmark. The fieldtrip was one part of a wider TriWadWalk partnership including universities in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. In May 2022, a first field trip took place, with a group of staff and students exploring the Wadden Sea coast and islands at the Dutch-German border. Both excursions were unusual for including a balance of staff and students (approximately 10 and 10) with emphasis placed on international exchange, interdisciplinary and intergenerational learning and the experience of being in and moving through ‘the field’. The staff came from the disciplines of geography, planning, tourism studies, anthropology, landscape architecture and environmental economics and are engaged to varying degrees in social science research at the Wadden Sea. The students brought a wider range of perspectives from their studies in both the environmental and social sciences. The fieldtrip developed from a longstanding collaboration between Wadden Sea researchers and educators at the universities of Bremen, Groningen, Hamburg, Lüneburg, Oldenburg and Southern Denmark and was generously supported by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat, Wadden Academy, the Danish Wadden Sea National Park, and the University of Southern Denmark.
In the following, I provide a brief account of the week, informed by my own personal reflections. Where relevant, links to secondary sources for further information are provided.
The trilateral Wadden Sea Forum (WSF) has recently initiated the process of developing a Green Coastal Deal for the Wadden Sea Region. The Wadden Sea Forum was established in 2002 as an independent multi-stakeholder partnership for the Wadden Sea region, complementing and supporting the intergovernmental Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC). From the beginning, the WSF has sought to facilitate exchange of knowledge, experience and good practice among a broad group of stakeholders across the Wadden Sea region in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. Whereas the formal TWSC is focused on the conservation of the Wadden Sea itself, the WSF is concerned with the sustainable development of the wider coastal region, helping to position the Wadden Sea conservation efforts (now a World Heritage site) site within its wider geographical context.
I am pleased to be invited to participate in a panel discussion at the MSP Nature 2021 online conference which will take place next week. The conference hosted by the Leibniz Institute for Ecological and Urban Development (Dresden) together with the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Seas Research Warnemünde and the German federal Agency for Nature Protection (BfN) addresses the question of how to reconcile human activities with ecological functions through marine spatial planning, a question that resonates with much of my recent work.
The panel discussion (19.01, 14:30) will focus on international examples and includes experts from Russia and Israel. My own contribution will reflect on the Dutch approach to ecosystem-based management and ‘building with nature’ at sea. I will draw on previous research work on the Dutch North Sea 2050 Spatial Agenda and protected area management at the Dutch Wadden Sea coast.