| Annette Birschel |
Amsterdam (dpa) – Seals lie lazily on the sand, taking in the late autumn sunshine.
Normally they can be seen on a sandbank offshore, near the Dutch island of Terschelling. But now – perhaps even to their own surprise – they have found an ideal sunbathing spot on the western shoreline of the Netherlands.
That’s because suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a wide beach has emerged.
Hikers, too, have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
Where, until a few weeks ago, the grey waters of the North Sea were washing up against the dike, there is now a 200-metre-wide beach of yellow sand, and behind it, sand dunes gently rising up.
Ships are busy spraying sand in huge arcs out into the water, and huge bulldozers are shoving mountains of sand back and forth and flattening out the sand.
Along the north-western tip of the Dutch mainland, between the towns of Egmond and Petten, what is going on is not a mega-tourism project, but a major effort in self-protection.
A protective wall is being built against the increasing masses of water caused by global warming.
“The Netherlands has to be prepared,” says Roeland Hillen, director of flood control operations for the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. “We have no other choice. Otherwise we’ll be getting wet feet.”
What sounds so relaxed is actually a life-and-death matter for the Dutch. A good 40 per cent of the country lies below sea level. The rising waters now threaten entire population centres west of Amsterdam.
According to climate researchers’ projections, the North Sea’s level could rise by between one and four metres over the next hundred years.
“There will also be more mega-storms,” Hillen warns. The current protective measures – a system of massive dikes along the northern Dutch coast – will no longer be adequate.
One of the weak points is the dike near Petten, first built in the 15th century after the catastrophe of 1421, when the town was flooded.
For the past 140 years, a massive dike 12 metres high has been regarded as a guarantee of safety. But not now.
Its height should be increased by four metres. But this is precisely what won’t happen, amid a rethink about climate change. “Simply building more dikes, or making them taller, is no longer sufficient,” says Luc Kohsiek, in charge of the dikes along the northern coastal region.
He notes that in order to increase the height of a dike, the base must also be broadened, something which means the loss of valuable land.
“And beside which, it will never stop. With climate change, the water will keep rising.”
The Dutch are now building beaches and dunes instead of dikes. The idea is to start breaking the power of the waves far from shore. As Kohsiek notes, this method is not only more sustainable, but cheaper.
Eight kilometres of 200-metre-wide beach are being built between Egmond and Petten. Behind this is a row of sand dunes, 100 metres wide.
“We are gaining an added piece of The Netherlands,” says flood control director Hillen.
They have an old saying here: “God created the world, but the Dutch created their own land.”
On the old dike, people stop to see how the new land is emerging. About 10 kilometres offshore, ships are dredging up sand; they then approach the shore and pump the sand into the water directly along the old dike.
The total volume of sand will amount to 35 million cubic metres. Bulldozers create small dams, while more sand is being pumped in through a pipeline, creating mountains of sand. These are then flattened out – creating the new beach. The pace is quick, about 400 metres per week.
The bulldozers then move some of the sand to form hills that will become sand dunes. Next comes the beach grass, planted by hand by two dozen workers.
In January the beach and dunes will be completed. Then, the bicycle and hiking paths will be established, along with a large nature protection zone.
The sea, of course, has not been tamed. Wind and tides will keep attacking the beach. So it will have to be reinforced each year with new sand.
Next summer, visitors will be able to romp on the newest beach. But the seals will doubtless leave – the seaside fun of humans is much too stressful for them.