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  • Writer's pictureDaria Danila

Natural resource extraction may cost Wadden Sea World Heritage status

The Wadden Sea is under threat of losing its UNESCO World Heritage status if the exploitation of salt and gas continues in the surrounding area.

The Wadden Sea as seen from Moddergat, around 10 km from Ternaard

Earlier this month, UNESCO issued a statement threatening to revoke this status if plans for the exploitation of the gas field near the town of Ternaard, Friesland, go ahead. In their statement, the organization claims that the Netherlands has not adequately assessed the impact that gas extraction efforts in the area surrounding the Wadden Sea would have on its distinct natural characteristics.

Over 1 million hectares of the Wadden Sea were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009, because of the unique amalgamation of ecosystems and geological features.

"It's just because they found gas there,” says Camille van der Vaat, a marine biologist with the University of Groningen, when asked about the reasons for a gas extraction site opening so close to the protected area. She explains that the government’s efforts to minimize their dependency on Russian gas led to the decision to set up a gas extraction facility near Ternaard.

“After the earthquakes happened [in Groningen], there was a big push to stop gas mining, so the government had to find alternative places,” says Van der Vaart.

‘[UNESCO] fits us like a glove’

Companies whose business is linked to the Wadden Sea would also be affected by the potential loss of its UNESCO status. “[The World Heritage title] fits us like a glove, with our sailing vessels,“ says Paul van Ommen, who works at the Dutch Charver Vessel Association (BBZ), a company which organizes sailing tours of the Wadden Sea. Van Ommen explains that, in his line of work, people immediately understand the value of the Wadden Sea when they hear of its UNESCO status. The protected nature of the area is what makes many tourists interested in the sailing trips the BBZ provides.

However, with UNESCO’s recent decision, van Ommen questions the

government’s commitment to preserving its unique natural sites “What is the Dutch Government willing to let go of next?”

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