A Delicious Day out in one of Denmark’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Slurp up some lessons ABOUT biodiversity ON the island of Rømø
When an invasive species provides an opportunity to teach visitors about marine ecosystems and is also tasty to eat, it’s a win-win. Set your sites towards the southwest coast of Jutland, Denmark and take an oyster safari in the Wadden Sea National Park. We spent a morning wading through mudflats with the Naturcenter Tønnisgård on the small island of Rømø recently to pluck fresh oysters straight from the sea. Even if shellfish isn’t your favorite dish, it’s an interesting and entertaining day out in Denmark.
THE WADDEN SEA | A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The Wadden Sea sits along a corner of Northern Europe straddling the borders of Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands. The largest intertidal mud and sand flats in the world, this unique eco-system plays host to a dizzying array of diverse wildlife. Relatively untouched, the marshes and mudflats here are part of a dynamic landscape that is constantly changing with the tides. The rich mud provides a home for worms, snails, mussels, crustaceans, and shellfish. In turn, this becomes food for millions of migrating birds that make stops in the Wadden Sea each season. Larger marine mammals like grey seals and harbor seals and harbor porpoises also make their homes in these waters.
The Wadden Sea National Park is Denmark’s largest national park. It extends from the Danish-German border to Blåvandshuk and covers 1,459km2, of which approximately 300km2 are on land. The national park consists of shallow waters, tidal flats, sand banks, barrier islands, tidal channels, sand dunes, marshland areas and salt meadows. It extends across four municipalities. Tønder, Esbjerg, Fanø and Varde.”
– National Park Vadehavet
Naturcenter TØNNISGÅRD | TØNNISGÅRD NATURE CENTER
We took a two-hour oyster tour with the Nature Center Tønnisgård, situated right off the main road on the island of Rømø. Book ahead, especially during fall break as the island is a popular destination for Danes as well as Germans. For the tour, you will meet at the center first for an introduction before following your guide in your own car to the oyster beds. Put on your wellies and bring your own bucket and waterproof gloves. We walked along the dike that helps the island manage storm waters and learned of Rømø’s history, having been part of Germany in the not so distant past.
It takes about fifteen minutes to walk along the dike to where you’ll see the mudflats. Here, Tanja – our excellent guide – gave us information about what we’d find and how to be safe. The mud is seriously slippery, so watch your step and take your time. We were happy to be wearing tall boots as you sink a little in the mud and there is some water to wade through. Once out to the oyster beds, we learn what to look for and what we can take.
INVASIVE PACIFIC OYSTER SPECIES IN DENMARK
Denmark does have two native oyster species, most famous are the ones from Limfjord, located further north up the Danish coastline. The oysters that currently live on Rømø are actually an invasive species of Pacific oysters from Asia. According to the Nationalpark Vadehavet, the once prevalent European oysters died out in the 1920s due to disease. In an attempt to repopulate the waters of the Wadden with oysters – hardier and disease-resistant Pacific oysters were released off a German island in the 1980s and naturally spread north to Denmark.
Today collecting and enjoying the tasty marine mollusks is an act of conservation. It is allowed to take as much as you can personally consume. I ask our guide Tanja about the idea of eating the oysters to extinction while balancing their boon for local tourism. It’s a curious conundrum celebrating something that isn’t supposed to be here. But that is exactly what took place the weekend before we visited at Denmark’s first Oyster Festival on the island. Three days of seeking, slurping and sampling the briny delicacy.
Because the Pacific oyster is not an indigenous species in Danish waters and has a negative effect on other indigenous species, it is referred to as an invasive species. You are therefore helping maintain Denmark’s indigenous nature when you harvest oysters for your own consumption.
– Nationalpark Vadehavet
TAKE ONLY AS MUCH AS CAN FIT IN YOUR HAT
We didn’t think to bring gloves and really wish we had as the edges of the lacy oyster shells can be razor-sharp. Be careful lifting up the seaweed as you seek them out. Here the oyster larvae have formed reefs as they land after spawning. These large clumps are difficult to eat, but form places for other species such as mussels, clams, and crabs to develop. Since it has only been a few decades, little is known yet about the impact of these reefs on the ecosystem. We look for singles – small ones to eat raw and larger ones to grill or to bake back home.
FRESH OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL WITH A TASTE OF SNAPS
Once everyone has found what they feel they can take, we wade back to the marsh and Tanja helps us open a few to taste on the spot. These are as fresh as you can get and taste like the sea. I love raw oysters simply with a little squeeze of lemon, which Tanja has brought, along with two kinds of homemade Danish herbal snaps. Take a tiny cup and taste the lyngsnaps, flavored with local heather and honey to cut the strong taste of the Scandinavian akvavit. Or try the havtorn snaps, bright orange from the tart sea buckthorn berries that grow on the island.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Denmark’s oyster season starts in October and ends in April. You can take tours with Tanja and the other guides at Tønnisgård all season long. Or if oysters aren’t your thing, the center offers tours and educational opportunities of all kinds.
Havnebyvej 30, 6792 Rømø, Denmark
+45 74 75 52 57
Note: The website is only in Danish or German, but if you open it in Google Chrome, you can read the translated page.
Oyster Tour Cost: 160 DKK per adult, 80 DKK per child
Tour lasts 2+ hours and is about 3.5km walk
WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed here:
A lovely hostel in a historic Sea Commander’s house. We loved the 100% organic and homemade breakfasts served every morning in the gorgeous old dining room decorated with painted walls and Dutch tiles from Delft.
Or find your own place here:
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