In 1953, Zeeland was devastated by a terrible flood, giving rise to new coastal defences in the form of the Delta Works. The idea behind the Delta Works was to shorten the amount of coastline that was exposed to the sea. In order to accomplish this, the estuaries needed to be dammed, and those estuaries that remained open to the sea, needed to have their sea walls raised to five metres above sea level.
Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge BarrierBut by the time construction was about to start on the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier (Oosterscheldekering), the Dutch had learned more about the impact that closing the estuaries would have on the region´s unique ecosystem. This led them to the decision of building a series of enormous sluice gates that could be closed during storms or extremely high tides.The barrier is three kilometres long and consists of 65 concrete pillars. You really have to see it to believe it! It is often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World and is by far the largest and most impressive structure in the Delta Works.
Building the Delta Works was an enormous task for Dutch hydraulic engineers as no one, anywhere in the world, had yet attempted to seal tidal outlets of these depths. They tackled each part of the new coastal defence system one at a time and each element was an innovative feat of hydraulic engineering in its own right. Gradually, the estuaries were closed off from the sea and the people of Zeeland started feeling safe again.
Neeltje Jans island
The artificial island of Neeltje Jans was constructed in the middle of the Delta Works, allowing for further construction of the dams. The island is now a nature area with expansive beaches, a beautiful view of the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier (Oosterscheldekering), and a large dune area that provides a breeding ground for many species of bird. You’ll also find Deltapark Neeltje Jans here, a theme park all about the Delta Works. The park has an extensive exhibition about how the Delta Works were built and there is a water park for the kids where they can make their own waterfalls and operate the locks! For more in-depth information about the Delta Works, we can also recommend the museum dedicated to the 1953 North Sea floods, the Watersnoodmuseum, in Ouwerkerk.