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Cleaning Up Dirty Lakes With Artificial Islands

The Marker Wadden Islands in the The Netherlands will become silt traps and bird sanctuaries.
A rendering showing how the Marker Wadden Islands may appear after completion.
A rendering showing how the Marker Wadden Islands may appear after completion.Courtesy Natuurmonumenten in Nederland

Currently, The Netherlands’ most ambitious environmental project in years isn’t much to look at. Squint your eyes from the shores of the country’s Markermeer Lake right now and all you’ll see is some pumping equipment and, if you’re lucky, the odd geyser of watery mud. What’s going on here is nonetheless groundbreaking—quite literally so. That’s because in an effort to bring vitality back to this large lake just northeast of Amsterdam, The Netherlands has come up with the ingenious solution of building a string of new islands.

Called the Marker Wadden due to their aimed-for similarity to the Wadden Islands that lie just off the country’s northern coast, these islands are gradually appearing above water as I write. Their aim, which I will explain in more detail below, is to provide, across an 800-hectare (three-square-mile) site, a place to stow silt that is currently clogging up the Markermeer Lake and stifling its life. In doing so, it will simultaneously create a structure that will succeed in naturally anchoring further silt after its construction.