This article is part of: ANF Specials Wadden Sea

We teach people to make them care

Text Barbara Hinnen
Photo International Wadden Sea School

Anja Szczesinski, coordinator International Wadden Sea School:

''What we do here at the International Wadden Sea School (IWSS) is provide an umbrella for world heritage education. Once a year, guides, staff of visitor centres and teachers come together to discuss and evaluate how we can create more awareness and protect our joint heritage. We do it together, we share One Wadden Sea.

Sharing ideas on a trilateral level

The IWSS offers a broad choice of educational resources, with a special focus on the Wadden Sea as common World Heritage. The individual activities take place on a local or regional level, but we share many ideas on a trilateral level, which makes a lot of sense as it is One Wadden Sea. We have recently combined all these activities into a common Strategy on Wadden Sea World Heritage Education and Interpretation, which document will be signed on the occasion of the conference.

Educate through Touch and Play

Wadden Sea education is a lot about 'Touch and Play' and good stories – for school children and families just as much as for nature lovers and 'best agers'. Guides take people out in the mud to look and feel for themselves: 'Look more closely at the mud, stick your fingers in it and you will find worms, shells and crabs – important food for migratory birds such as the red knot. This bird spends the winter in Africa and comes here to stock up on fat reserves before it continues its flight to the Arctic for breeding.'

Discover life in the mud

People are fascinated by what they can see, feel and touch. Once they realise how special it is to discover the life in the mud, they become excited. They are thrilled to walk here in this habitat that's usually closed for humans, because we are actually walking on the bottom of the sea!

Showing hidden treasures

Even though it is so special, we need to explain why. The Wadden Sea is different to other World Heritage sites such as the Grand Canyon, which you see and immediately say: 'This is amazing!' Often, people are actually quite disappointed when they come here; they see nothing but boring mud! But once the guides show them traces of the red knot and how to identify it, for example, 'Oh, a red knot has been here!'  they become really excited.

Finding footprints

We learn from each other, everybody has different ideas of how to captivate our visitors and we inspire each other. For example, what we’re doing now is to focus on the so-called 'footprint' side of the story, which works well. We even developed a sticker book based on the popularity of the dinosaur books.

Linking phenomena to world heritage

Seeing, feeling and tasting also works well; take, for example, marsh samphire on the salt marshes. When you taste it, it’s so salty! You focus on the phenomenon and you link it to our cause: preservation and awareness of our heritage. People love to discover, after which we relate their experience to the bigger picture of our world heritage.

What makes people care

Once people have experienced the Wadden, they often ask whether they can do anything to help protect it – which is a good thing, because what they do at home also has an effect on the oceans. So, the effect of what we teach goes further then only the Wadden. Our job is to create awareness of the uniqueness of the Wadden Sea; people need to be made aware of its value, because that's what makes them care.''