Into the Wetlands: Keeping Denmark’s Everglades on the map, handling 12 million flights a year

For over five years, the Wadden Sea National Park has been working tirelessly to strengthen the area’s nature protection and cultural history and provide visitors with unique experiences

Alternating between sea and land, one thing's for sure: it's always pretty wet (photo: NPV_John Frikke) Alternating between sea and land, one thing's for sure: it's always pretty wet (photo: NPV_John Frikke)
January 22nd, 2016 7:00 pm| by Luna Fagerlund

We all know that Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport, but which one handles the most transit flights? Frankfurt, the eternal middleman, might have a good claim, as does Charles de Gaulle, but did you know Denmark also has a claimant?

Responsible for the departure of some 12 million flights every year, the Wadden Sea National Park is one of the largest wetland areas in the world, stretching 500 km along the North Sea coast of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

And as a ‘transit airport’, it plays a crucial role in one of this continent’s biggest annual exoduses: the annual migration of 12 million birds flying along the East Atlantic Flyway from the cold north to western and southern Africa.

12 million migrating birds visit the region every year (photo: NPV_John_Frikke)
12 million migrating birds visit the region every year (photo: NPV_John_Frikke)


The key fuel station
“It’s amazing that these small creatures can complete such a demanding journey,” enthused John Frikke, the project manager at the Danish section of the Wadden Sea National Park on the southwest coast of Jutland, to the Weekly Post.

“The Wadden Sea functions as the key pantry – or fuel station, if you will – on their long travels, which is why the Wadden Sea is of such importance!”

Additionally the unique marshland area, which every day alternates between being land and sea, is the home to thousands of species of fish, birds, mammals and flora.

Truly unique
But mankind can not take an area like this, or its inhabitants, for granted. More than five years on from its official inauguration as a national park, the team at the Wadden Sea National Park with the assistance of travel authority Expedia Denmark continues to strive to ensure the wetland stays on the map – literally and in the minds of Danes and tourists further afield.

Charged with strengthening nature protection, cultural history, outdoor activities, education and research, and international co-operation, it is a 24-7, all-year-round mission.

In these challenging times, nature and wildlife preservation has never been more important – visiting the area and taking advantage of one of its many nature tours ensures it remains a viable prospect and one that future generations can enjoy.

“The Wadden Sea National Park is a very broadly based unit aiming to highlight the specific features of the Wadden Sea area and to create a mutual understanding – with both the locals and visitors – that the Wadden Sea is a unique place,” continued Frikke.

“Especially the migratory birds is something quite special and very extraordinary.”

13 incredible journeys
With help from Expedia Denmark, Karsten Laursen from the Department of Bioscience & Fauna Ecology at the University of Aarhus and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US, the birds and their epic journeys have been visualised in an interactive piece that enables you to take a closer look at their unique migration patterns.

‘Epic Journeys’ documents the travels of 13 bird species that travel to the area every year, telling special narratives about each one. Below are the stories of two: the Arctic Tern and the Red Knot.

Epic Journeys by ExpediaDK


Red Knot
The Red Knot’s two subspecies, Canutus Canutus and Canutus Islandica, have perhaps the most interesting of all the migratory patterns. The former breeds in northern Siberia before travelling to western and southwestern Africa, crossing the Sahara on the way. The latter breeds in Arctic Canada and Greenland, making its way via Iceland or northern Norway to winter in northwest Europe, which means the Red Knot can be seen in the Wadden Sea all year round.

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Arctic Tern
The Artic Tern is the world champion of bird migration. Within just one year it will make its way from the Arctic North all the way to South Africa and Antarctica, which means that in a lifetime it can travel a distance equivalent to flying to the moon and back three times! So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that it doesn’t stay for long. It tends to arrive at the Wadden Sea in April for the breeding season and then make its way south again in August. p4_arctic


Five Wadden Sea experiences

The Wadden Sea National Park is open to everyone all year round. It is of particular interest to visitors who wants to enjoy the opportunity to learn all about Denmark’s incredible natural beauty – and with that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of five must-not-miss Wadden Sea experiences, along with the best time to enjoy them.

Oyster and mussel safari
January onwards
For a real taste of Denmark, try the Wadden Sea oyster and mussel safari. Available from October to April, we recommend going around the turn of the year, as the lower temperatures bring the oysters and mussels into shallower waters, allowing you to gather up as many as you can with the help of an expert who will make sure you don’t pick out the poisonous ones. The safari offers a unique day out with plenty of opportunities to learn about the local area, and it ends with a bag full of delicious treats. Remember to wrap up warm, as the sea is extremely cold at this time of year!

Amber safari
Guided tours from the Wadden Sea centre run on a regular basis, offering you the opportunity to survey the coastline in search of pre-historic pine resin in the form of beautiful golden amber. These delightful nuggets of treasure are washed up on the shore by the crashing waves and provide you with an unforgettable souvenir of your expedition. The stronger the waves are, the more amber gets washed up on the shore – so we recommend visiting after one of the many storms the area endures. They make the area a real hot-spot for collecting this ‘gold of the North’.

‘Black Sun’
‘Black Sun’ (in Danish: ‘Sort Sol’) takes its name from the extraordinary way in which the sky darkens as thousands of native starlings take flight at dusk. At its peak, this unique phenomenon sees up to a million starlings flocking to the marshes of Tøndermarsken during the springtime, making for a truly sensational sight that you will never forget. As the sun begins to set, your eyes are confronted with nothing but an endless sky of starlings moving in unison, almost as though they are dancing as they form stunning shapes and patterns. This incredible natural wonder will blow you away!

Seal safari
April onwards
Enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend time with seals in their natural habitat. After a brief introduction at the Wadden Sea Centre where you will learn all about the native grey seals and their behaviour, you will be taken on a bracing 2.5km hike to observe them lying out on small offshore sandbanks or dipping beneath the surface in search of fish. Or for a more relaxing tour, hop on a horse-drawn carriage, or visit the nearby sealarium where you are guaranteed a good view. A good tip: if you arrive at 11am or 2.30pm, you can even see them being fed.

Night-walk on the tidal flats
While a brisk walk around the flats is a great day out, we recommend the night walks on offer. At low tide, the sea bed is dry, allowing you to explore the seabed without getting wet. The feeling of prawns, crabs and worms crawling at your feet takes some getting used to, but this experience is something you will struggle to find elsewhere. Local experts will give you a history of the area along with an explanation of how the tidal flats occur, and they will even give you tips on ensuring you don’t get stuck in the mud. Pack extra warm clothes as it can be chilly in the evenings!