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Quite often my choice of subject matter for writing about sustainability, and the health of our oceans and waterways, is triggered by personal experiences. Living onboard for most of the summer, or until the winter chill drives me ashore, is the perfect way to observe what is going on in the natural environment, and to make comparisons from one year to the next.
This summer in the Netherlands has been remarkable for the unusually extended period of dry, warm and sunny weather…No complaints there then!
However, the country now has an official nationwide water shortage due to the ongoing drought and dropping river water levels, with a lot of swimming water declared unsafe due to the presence of toxic algae. A spokesman for the infrastructure ministry said, “We have a special crisis team now assessing what measures need to be taken to cope with increasing occurrences of botulism, fish deaths and blue-green algae.”
My own observations on this situation have been coloured (excuse the pun) by the fact that my boat has been floating in what looks like a thick cabbage soup for the last few months. I can honestly say, that in 20 years of boating on the Netherlands inland waterways, I have never witnessed anything like it. Even the wider fast flowing estuaries have taken on a green hue, and when a fast boat goes by, it leaves a stern wake which glistens bright green in the sunlight!
Two types of unprecedented biological growth have taken over in our marina, which in fairness is very protected by trees on all sides, thus concentrating the sunlight and reducing the air flow across the surface. Coming up from the muddy bottom, a tough, tangly and very fast-growing weed has reached all the way to the surface; this wraps around propellers, rudders and sterndrives, resulting in a few angry skippers!
Then, across the water surface is the thick green algae, which can have an unpleasant smell if you're downwind, and is often seen with dead eels and fish trapped in it.