A silted-up lake has been transformed into the latest addition to the map of the Netherlands and an eco-haven teeming with wildlife
It takes about an hour on the ferry, across often choppy waters, to reach the newest bit of the Netherlands. For those sailing in from the port of Lelystad, the first sign of the Marker Wadden is a long finger of sand dunes designed to protect against flooding.
You see the cormorants, the black birds? asks the environmentalist Roel Posthoorn, pointing skywards.
Nine kilometres into the vast expanse of the Markermeer, the 700 sq km lake on Amsterdams easterly flank, lies a new Dutch archipelago. Five sprawling artificial islands, constructed from sucked-up and refashioned fine silt, clay and shells, offer a haven for plants, birds and other wildlife.
Its a place for human pioneers, too. A small Robinson Crusoe-style hut stands next to a makeshift harbour for the volunteers who stay for week-long stretches as island wardens.
But here nature is king. Only the squawk and song of birds, the light clap of their wings, and the ebb and flow of water on the nearby sandy beach break the islands silence. The Marker Wadden is an unprecedented feat of engineering and ecological restoration made necessary because of human interventions, which have had disastrous consequences quite out of step with the Dutch reputation for water management.
Forty years ago, plans had been in the works to reclaim this vast lake for habitation, potentially turning the four-metre-deep Markermeer into Markerwaard, a spillover settlement for the booming Dutch capital. The lakes shores were armoured up with heavy stones. The Houtribdijk, a dam with a road on top, was built, cutting the doomed lake off from waters to its east. But mounting costs and political hurly-burly got in the way of the reclamation, leaving behind only a huge, turbid basin of water one of the largest lakes in Europe muddied by swirling silt.
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