This Europe: Lethal legacy of war may provide haven for Belgian birdlife

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For nearly a century, 35,000 tons of First World War explosives, including canisters of lethal mustard gas, have lain quietly rusting on a sandbank off the Belgian coast.

For nearly a century, 35,000 tons of First World War explosives, including canisters of lethal mustard gas, have lain quietly rusting on a sandbank off the Belgian coast. Families and holidaymakers at the popular seaside resort of Knokke have been swimming just metres from the deadly shells, dumped in 1919.

Although scientists say the munitions are safe for now, fears that ships heading towards Zeebrugge might accidentally run into the toxic canisters or that they could start to leak are growing.

Experts believe it would be even more dangerous to clear or dismantle the weapons than to leave them where they are. Instead, a team at Ghent University has come up with an imaginative solution – the dump could be transformed into an island haven for wildlife.

A dam would be built and the munitions buried in a horseshoe-shaped mass rising six metres above the sea. Regular checks would ensure poisons were not leaking from the site.

The island, measuring four square metres, would have dykes on one side and sandy slopes on the other, making it ideal for seals and nesting birds.

Renaat Landuyt, the regional tourism minister wants it to be built as quickly as possible. "This is a very attractive and creative project, which should increase the environmental value of the Belgian coast," he said.

Comments