It was in the night of 31 January to 1 February 1953 that the south-west of The Netherlands was devastated by a disastrous North Sea flood. Vast tracts of Zeeland were inundated. The nation’s response – the Delta Works – would, in the prevalent thinking, shorten the exposed coast and avoid a repeat. Many inlets and estuaries were closed off. Where they were kept open, sea defences were to be raised to ‘delta level’, roughly that of the summer flood tide of Amsterdam when it was open to the sea.
Oosterschelde flood barrier
During the construction of this storm surge barrier on the Eastern Schelde estuary, people realised that its closure would see a unique nature area being lost for ever. Plans changed: a dam came with movable gates which can be closed in a storm surge and/or spring tide. A full three kilometres wide, the barrier and its 65 towers is by far the most imposing, and recognised, part of the Delta Works – to the extent of being called the Eighth Wonder of the world.
Hydraulic heroes worked wonders
No nation in the world had ever attempted what the Dutch hydraulic engineers were planning, in sea inlets as deep as these. But the Deltaplan progressed well, piece by challenging piece. The inlets were closed and tamed, and people of Zeeland could feel safe once more.
At the heart of the series of dams lies the island Neeltje Jans, created as the production platform for building the dam with pillars. Now it’s a nature area fringed with long beaches, giving magnificent views on the flood surge barrier and a string of dunes home to breeding birds. At its edge, the Deltapark Neeltje Jans tells you all about water and the Delta Works. Elsewhere, in nearby Ouwerkerk, the Watersnoodmuseum will tell you more about that disastrous winter night in 1953, the works and how we are coping with rising sea levels today.
The completion of the Grevelingendam led to the lake of the same name, the Grevelingenmeer. More than one third of its total area (4,000 of 11,000 hectares) is no deeper than 1.5 metres. Another 3,000 hectares are now permanently drained, given there are no more tides. As a result, the banks have gradually desalinated to become freshwater. This unique mixture, coupled with frequent surges of salt water, form a habitat for particular plant forms.
The Delta Works complex
There are other flood barriers in the Delta Works (http://deltawerken.com) than the Oosterscheldekering. Other links in the protective chain of the Zeeland coast are the Haringvlietdam, Grevelingendam, Brouwersdam, Veerse Gatdam, Zandkreekdam, Philipswerken, Markiezaatskade, Bathse Spuikanaal and sluices, the Oesterdam and the Maeslantkering barrier. By connecting the various islands, the province of Zeeland has become much more accessible than before. The Zeelandbrug bridge and the Westerschelde tunnel are also key in this.
Oosterschelde – the Eastern Schelde
By remaining open to the tides, the Oosterschelde (http://www.np-oosterschelde.nl/ ) is still one of the most unique nature areas of Zeeland. In 2002, it was declared a National Park. Its numerous marshes and mudflats attract flocks of migratory and aquatic birds, while its special underwater life lures a great many (human) divers.
One of the busiest tourist centres in Zeeland is the Brouwersdam. It spans the 6.5 km distance between the Grevelingen lake and the North Sea, making water sports possible whatever the weather. Even extreme sports are normal here! Blocarting, paddle boarding, water jumping (minimum height: 3 m), kiting, they’re all on the menu. What’s more, thanks to the road that runs over the dam, it’s easy to reach all of the (kite) surfing spots. When the wind is in the right direction, many a surfer gathers at Oesterdam. The Veerse Meer lake is pretty astounding for surfing too – and it has a water skiing course.
Touch base with 148 km of the elements, and try out the Delta Route along the Oosterscheldekering, Grevelingendam and Oesterdam.