Desilt (Worktitle)

Part of WaterLANDS

Ongoing since 2023: Individual Research

‘Desilt,’ focuses on ecological restoration in the context of the largest estuary and surrounding landscape in the North of the Netherlands. EU Horizon has funded the selection of six artists to each reflect on one of six different ecological restoration sites in Europe as part of the large-scale and ambitious project ‘WaterLANDS‘ (2023-2026).

The estuary is depleted of life because of the siltation of the water, and engineers currently are developing a more symbiotic approach where nature and culture can live more in harmony in the future along the coastline. In his book ‘The Good Ancestor,’ Roman Krznaric, an Australian philosopher, used the rich history of the construction and maintenance of the dikes in the Netherlands as an example of long-term thinking and intergenerational care.

About the Ems-Dollard Estuary

The Ems-Dollard estuary is located on the border between the Netherlands and Germany where the river Ems meets the Wadden Sea, one of the world’s largest tidal areas. The estuary is renowned for its sandflats, mudflats, and coastal salt marshes. The current shape of the Ems-Dollard estuary is strongly influenced by human actions. Starting from the Middle Ages, salt marshes were reclaimed by building dikes, and coastal peatlands were drained for agricultural use, resulting in soil subsidence. The size of the estuary has decreased due to the sedimentation of sand and silt, and the reclamation of salt marshes along the coast.

Currently, major parts of the area seaward of the dikes are designated as Natura 2000 sites, in both the Netherlands and Germany. However, sea level rise will threaten the survival of coastal wetlands. Partly due to the deepening of the Ems River for shipping purposes, the silt concentration in the estuary has become too high. The resulting water quality problems and the need to reinforce flood defenses have led to the idea of removing sediment from the estuary in a newly created intertidal area in the hinterland. By building a second dike landward of the existing dike, a pilot area of approximately 39 hectares (ha) will be created through WaterLANDS. This area of former agricultural land is split into three sections. The southernmost section is connected directly to the Ems through a culvert, where a combination of clay mining and nature development is proposed, and other sections, for which aquaculture and saline agriculture are planned. This so-called ‘Twin Dike’ project is located near the city of Delfzijl and is managed by the Province of Groningen.

The WaterLANDS project is led by University College Dublin, Ireland and brings together 32 organisations from research, industry, government and non-profit sectors in 14 European countries.

The artists part of WaterLANDS working on 6 different sites are: Maria Nalbantova (Bulgaria), Elo Liiv (Estonia), Christine Mackey (Ireland), Claudio Beorchia (Italy), Marjolijn Dijkman (Netherlands), and Laura Harrington and Fiona MacDonald(Feral Practice) (United Kingdom).

More information: WaterLANDS Artistic Engagement Residency & WaterLANDS

Satellite image of the salt marshes on the border between The Netherlands (left) and Germany (Right), credit Google.
Building pit under construction in the dyke to create a controlled sea water inflow for the Twin Dyke, photo M. Dijkman.
Gravestones on a dyke from the disappeared village of Oterdum, one of the two villages that were destroyed to make space for the construction of the dyke and an industrial area in 1975. The industry never arrived, and parts of land from the former village are still bare, photo M. Dijkman.
The massive 'Carnaval Jubilee' cruise ship docked at the Meyer Warf in Papenburg, Germany, almost ready to depart through the Ems-Dollart and facilitate around 6500 passengers. This shipyard is the second largest in the world, after Cape Canaveral, photo M. Dijkman.
Some of the many windmills in the area, with a coal plant and Google data center in the back. The cooling water from the data center runs through the future wetland of the Twin Dyke, photo M. Dijkman.