“When you think of the Wadden Sea, you think of seals and nature, but the area is rarely viewed through a cultural, historical or social lens,” explains Karin de Boer, lecturer and project coordinator at the Science Shop. This is probably because the Wadden Sea with its diverse ecosystem is a natural world heritage site. The plans for the Wadden Sea World Heritage Center in Lauwersoog are promising and interesting for researchers and students of the University of Groningen (RuG). Science Education and Communication student Marjanne van der Bijl examined the potential collaboration between the Wadden Sea World Heritage Center Foundation and the University of Groningen through an interdisciplinary perspective, one that looks further than just collaboration in the biological field.
“Working on a healthy balance between people and nature, for the world of tomorrow”, that is what the new Wadden Sea World Heritage Center in Lauwersoog will be, according to the foundation. The construction of the center is expected to start at the beginning of 2022. Here people can experience the Wadden Sea region with their hands in the mud, on the border of land and water. The center is an interesting place for both scientists and students to come together to investigate life on and around the Wadden Sea.
Within the university there is much more research about the Wadden area than just research on the nature of the Wadden. Marjanne researched the potential collaboration between the university and the World Heritage Center for the Science Shop by talking to scientists from all kinds of different disciplines. “I actually contacted researchers from knowledge areas that are not necessarily obvious,” says Marjanne. She spoke to fifteen researchers from psychology, geography, archeology and history, among others, to see what a collaboration could mean for a cultural historian or archaeologist, for example.
The study showed that some researchers find it difficult that the Wadden Sea Region is often only associated with nature. “The wadden region extends beyond the dike,” says Marjanne, “there is a socio-cultural history that is super interesting, so more attention should be paid to that.” The desire of the interviewed researchers for a broader view of research and education in the Wadden area corresponds to the view of the project organization of the World Heritage Center. For example, both parties want the center to become a platform for interdisciplinary research and education where laboratories and work and meeting places are present.
The center can serve as a regional bridge between the UG and the Wadden region. The interviews revealed that it can be difficult to get in touch with organizations and companies for research. The same goes for contact with the local population. A central location could lower this threshold because there is a physical place where people can easily walk in to discuss things together or to exchange information.
The World Heritage Center will also become a visitor center, a place where visitors can experience the Wadden Sea by doing: Experience, Learn, Research and Meet. Here visitors can see parts of the research themselves in the form of a so-called 'living lab'. At the moment the research is focused on the ecosystem of the Wadden Sea with biologists, ecologists and veterinarians. However, the interviewed researchers indicate that they would also like to see a broader picture of the Wadden Sea area here, one that includes the land beyond the dyke and the culture that lives there. The socio-cultural history of the area has had a major impact on the history, development and current state of the Wadden Sea. Although both parties are in the same direction in many areas, it would be beneficial for both the Wadden Sea World Heritage Center Foundation and the university to come together to further investigate possible cooperation.
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