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Stories about wonderous creatures and gruesome events have been told for many tears along the full s of the Wadden coast: from our island Texel to Germany and even Skallingen in Denmark. It’s fun to have the shivers from scary stories together, but the stories served another purpose too: they warned people of danger. Frisian children were, for instance, cautioned to stay away from deep water, because the terrible Bûlhûn might grab them.
People used to make up stories to explain unknown, natural phenomena, like shooting stars, wisps of fog and solar eclipses. These stories always emphasized that ‘one should lead a good life.’ Remember the nasty farmer who lived along the Dollart bay? His punishment was to spend his days as a haunted horseman on a white horse after his death, and he would never find peace… You wouldn’t want that for yourself, would you?
The funny thing is, that people from all over this stretch of coast would tell each other the same kind of stories, about the same kind of creatures. Sightings of small dwarves, mermaids and even of merman have been reported from over the whole of the Wadden area. Could they really have existed, do you think?
Modern day monsters are certainly for real. They’re no longer primitive creatures, but monsters that were created by man, through the way we live and how we choose to adapt our natural surroundings. Come and pay a visit to both the real and the fantastical monsters.
They live at night. They’re no taller than a one-year-old, but they’re very strong. On the island of Ameland, they’re called ‘Woutermannetjes’, on Texel they’re known as ‘Sommeltjes’, and they turn into stone as soon as they see the sun. On the German island Sylt they call them ‘Zwergen’, and in Groningen? Here you’ll find one by the name of ‘Maanje Klop.’
In all cases they were little men that would come to the help of humans. They’d often wear a pointed hat and they had friendly faces. But they could get very angry too. If humans behaved nasty, they’d take revenge.
Sailors along the North Sea coast were happy to have one of these little creatures, whom they called ‘Klabouters,’ on board, because they were so handy, despite them having a wooden leg that they’d scare people with. As soon as darkness fell, they’d get to work, and you’d hear them hammering. They also helped prevent disasters by keeping an eye out for fires and making sure the ship didn’t run aground. You were to serve them good food, however, and if you did something wrong… Wow… If a sailor turned out to be a thief or if the captain was trouble, it would suddenly go quiet at night. There would be no more tapping or hammering, as the Klabouter would have left, as well as all the ship’s cats, who were his buddies. This was quite frightening for the crew, as they were no longer sure that their ship would safely return home from its journey, and here came the roaring, high waves…
On the photo above you can see the image ‘Sommeltjes’ on the island of Texel, by Irene Maas.
mermaids and mermen
A long, long time ago, sea people lived in the sea. Both men and women. Mermaids used to be called ‘seewiefkes’ (sea wives) in Groningen, in the province of Frisia they were referred to as ‘It Wetterwief’ (the water wives’), in Denmark they called them ‘Havfrue’ (sea ladies) and in the German dialect 'Platduuts' they were known as ‘Seejumfer’.
Mermaids were admired by everyone, but people feared them too. In the village of Urk it was considered a bad omen if you heard them singing. A storm might be on the way, or a ship would be wrecked.
You’d often find mermaids on the sandbanks of the Dollart bay. One day when a man was fishing for herring, he suddenly saw their shiny, wavy hair and their beautiful, bare breasts. He swiftly jumped from the ship and headed their way. Others had told him to shout ‘stupid man,’ to attract the mermaids, so that’s what he did. Then, suddenly, the tide came in. He had to make a run for it, and he managed to clamber back on board, just in time. He then learnt that he had been shouting his own name, all along.
The sailor from the Dollart bay was very lucky, even though he was rather stupid. Ususally sailors would forget how to navigate as soon as they came across a mermaid. The ship would go down with all hands.
Mermen often looked scary. They’d have wild beards of seaweed, a savage look in their eyes, and duckweed growing from their backs. Sometimes mermaids or mermen were caught by people living along the coast. The ‘Zeeridder’ (the sea knight) was captured and dragged all over the Frisian lands, for everyone to see. But sea people cannot live outside the sea. The sea knight wouldn’t eat or drink. He died in the city of Dokkum, after having spent three weeks on dry land.
The silt monster is giving the fish, shells and mussels a hard time. The water in the Wadden Sea can be so murky that it looks like chocolate milk. This is because large ships need a deep fairway, so a lot of dredging takes place here, deeper and deeper every time. This also makes the water flow faster, and the fine mud particles no longer sink to the bottom, so you get chocolate milk. The Ems Dollart nature reserve is also in trouble, because if you have a lot of silt particles in the water, there will hardly be any sunlight or oxygen, which makes it difficult for fish and sea plants and creatures to live here. This includes shellfish, like mussels and oysters. They like to live together in clusters, and they create a pleasant habitat for other marine life.
It would be a good idea not to disturb nature anymore, but this doesn’t make any money. Silt can, however, be used for the positive: it helps fertilize farmland and it’s used to raise and strengthen the dikes. This is done in Delfzijl, for instance.
Isn’t it beautiful? As soon as it’s dark, all the lights come on, one after another. There are so many lights, that a lot of animals get confused, as nature and the earth follow a strict rhythm of day and night, as well as a monthly cycle and the change of the seasons. Artificial light disturbs this natural rhythm, including that of sea animals. Take eels, they’re travellers at heart, but as soon as they see lights, they stop swimming.
A lot of animals communicate by using colours, and light also plays an important role in the reproduction process of many animals. Artificial lights disturb this process. Many animals use the moon as a compass; it helps them find their way. Birds flying over the North Sea or Wadden Sea are disorientated by the artificial lights from ships and oil rigs, and they lose their way, or even fly to their death.
There is a lot of artificial light in the Netherlands. It would help a lot for birds, if the artificial light was green, instead of red, and it is better to aim the lights closer to the ground, instead of upwards. That’s where we need it. One of the army barracks along the coast has already made these adjustments, and it works. The Light Monster doesn’t have to leave altogether, but we don’t need as much of it, and it needs some adjustments. This is also an advantage for us people: if you go to the Lauwersmeer area at night, it’s pitch dark, and you will be treated to an extraordinary sea of stars.
Imagine you’re a small mussel, and all day long large vessels sail by with a loud hum and large, noisy propellors. Sound travels far, under water. And there are more cargo ships in the North Sea, than practically anywhere else, sailing in between the wind farms and oil ridges. You can imagine that a lot of sea animals experience a lot of stress from all this noise. They eat less and don’t grow as big, and they have less offspring. They have trouble communicating too, as it’s impossible to shout above the sound of a boat engine. Shellfish, like mussels and oysters close their shells when it’s too noisy. They absorb less oxygen and die at an earlier age. That’s not a good thing.
Thankfully some people examined how to improve things. One thing that helps, is when ships sail at a lower speed. The shape of a ship can also be designed in such a way that it has less resistance from the water, and thus makes is less noisy. Every little bit helps.