Natural mussel beds are of great importance for the Wadden Sea

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Mussel beds are the Wadden Sea’s ‘hotspots of biodiversity’ and they are of great importance to the life in this area. Research shows that life in these beds is 40% more diverse than previously thought, including species of crabs, algae and fish. This in turn attracts about 3.5 times more birds than other places in the sea do. Experiments have shown the recovery of mussel beds, which have disappeared for reasons such as overfishing, is not easy. Researchers suggest that patience for natural recovery is required; it is better to leave the existing mussel beds undisturbed than to start recovery experiments.

The tide can be turned, but for this to happen the Wadden Sea has to be better protected

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Mussel beds are very important in the Wadden Sea. They act as habitats for many other organisms, function as a filter, and provide food for birds, crabs and starfish. However, about 25 years ago the mussel beds disappeared because of overfishing.  The subsequent deterioration of the ecological function and biodiversity of this now internationally recognized nature reserve was associated with this. Since 1994, many mussel beds have returned spontaneously, but this recovery stalled in the western Wadden Sea. The slow recovery in the western Wadden Sea and uncertainty about the effects of the mussel fishery in this area were the reasons behind starting the interdisciplinary project ‘Mosselwad’ in 2009. The Mosselwad researchers focussed primarily on the development and stability of mussel beds in the Wadden Sea. How important are waves and currents for bed creation and development, and what is the role of crabs, starfish and wading birds? Under what circumstances is active recovery of mussel beds possible? In 2015, Mosselwad researchers published a book called ‘A Sea of Mussels’, an ecology manual for protection, policy and management of mussel beds in the Wadden Sea. After six years of research, it presents a vision of how the Wadden Sea should be managed.

Why is this so important

For nature protection organisations and the fishing industry, it is interesting to know what placing limitations on mussel fisheries can do for such environments. For licensing authorities it is important to know where the potential of establishment and recovery of mussel beds is the greatest and which human interventions are harmful to mussel beds.


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Professor Olffis a professor at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and specialized in ecology, biodiversity, nature conservation and sustainable environment. Professor Olffis also a director at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES) at the University of Groningen and a member of several advisory boards in the field of nature conservation.

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My expertise

Ecology, biodiversity, conservation, sustainable environment