What was once the thriving port of Ribe is now a giant tidal flat – terrible for merchants, great for migratory sea birds. The Vadehavet, or Wadden Sea, runs along the west coasts of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
Although it is currently protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Area, Pacific oysters were previously introduced in the 1980s. These oysters are now widespread and compete with local mussel species for habitat. At the moment, water temperatures are still low enough that the oysters can only breed every five years, so there is a balance between the mussels and the oysters. However, if water temperatures increase the oysters will become a serious problem.
To do our bit to help the mussels, we went on an ‘oyster safari’. This involved donning some very attractive waders and walking 3km across the sea bed to find the oyster beds exposed by the low tide.
Our mission was nearly scuppered by me being given the wrong sized waders. I can assure you, you have never felt truly ridiculous until you have tried to put on a pair of waders that fit in the feet but have child sized pants attached, it is a whole world of confusion. On the plus side, it actually makes the grown-up sized version seem like a perfectly reasonable item of clothing in comparison.
The walk out along the sea bed was otherworldly – it was like being in the middle of a weirdly soggy desert. The 3kms felt like a decent enough hike given that for half of it we were in knee to thigh deep water.
We were shown the best size oysters for eating, and correct shucking methods. Then, armed with a bucket, knife and gloves, we basically had about an hour to eat as many oysters as we could physically ingest and/or carry. For me that was about 2 and for Ant it was like 22, so we evened each other out. I did get pretty pro at shucking though, should anyone ever need anything shucked.
I just want to take a brief moment to recognise these Danish geniuses who thought to bring champagne – clearly this isn’t their first rodeo:
We could also collect and take home as many oysters as we liked (or could fit in our bucket). The shells close up tightly at low tide with a bit of sea water in them, so they are surprisingly transportable. Ant got a bit carried away with the hunting and gathering aspect, so we ended up with a pretty gluttonous haul. But hey, they’re an invasive species, so for once we are using our greed for a good cause.
All in all a pretty bizarre, interesting and oddly luxurious way to spend the afternoon. I totally recommend it, though be warned – it simultaneously made me appreciate oysters more, while now only wanting to eat ones I have freshly foraged and opened from here on…