Artificial island to bring wildlife back

Based on inputs by Shahid Kazi

The dutch are creating 5 islands on the river Markermeer, one of largest freshwater lakes, to protect the biodiversity and wildlife of the area. This is considered as one of the largest re-wilding operations in Europe.

The five islets were built in two and a half years and have started showing positive results. Vegetation has started showing up and now covers a large part of the 700 hectares that have been built. Experts have found 127 kinds of plants on the islets, most brought in by windborne seeds. The islets were used as resting place for around 30,000 swallows this year.

In the water there is an “explosion” of plankton that ensures a large amount of food for the birds. Greylag goose, common tern, several species of waders such as the great egret and the night heron have also returned; a proof of islands’ success.

The project, initiated by Natuurmonumenten, a Dutch non-governmental organisation working for the preservation of nature, cost 60 million euros ($68 million). Most of this was contributed by citizens.

The Dutch used an innovative technique of forming the islets with silt. “Building an island with sand is not that difficult, we do it all over the world, and what is unique here is that we use silt,” says Jeroen van der Klooster, project head at Boskalis, the maritime service provider that built the archipelago. His team dug a 1,200-metre “corridor” on the main island which allowed the silt, led by strong ocean currents, to form marshy areas, fertile soil and reservoirs where migratory birds can eat.

Three wooden bird observatories, a house for the island’s guardian, 12 kilometres of footbridges and unpaved roads have also been built on the main island, which is open to the public. The other four islets are exclusively reserved for wildlife and plants

Earlier the lake had become devoid of aquatic life. Over the decades, sediment used to create a dyke separating the Markermeer from another body of water, the Ijsselmeer, washed away and sank to the bottom of the lake. That turned the water cloudy, negatively impacting fish and bird populations, plants and molluscs.

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