Wadden Island Estuary at Sunset, The Netherlands

The Wadden Sea is an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea. It lies between the coast of northwestern continental Europe and the range of Frisian Islands, forming a shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands. It is rich in biological diversity. In 2009, the Dutch and German parts of the Wadden Sea were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the Danish part was added in June 2014.

The Wadden Sea is one of the world’s seas whose coastline has been most modified by humans, via systems of dikes and causeways on the mainland and low lying coastal islands. The Wadden Sea stretches from Den Helder in the Netherlands in the northwest, past the great river estuaries of Germany to its northern boundary at Skallingen north of Esbjerg in Denmark along a total length of some 500 km and a total area of about 10,000 km2. Within the Netherlands it is bounded from the IJsselmeer by the Afsluitdijk.

The islands in the Wadden Sea are called the Wadden Sea Islands or Frisian Islands, named after the Frisians. These are remenants of the once expansive and now submerged Doggerland. However, on the westernmost Dutch island, Texel, the Frisian language has not been spoken for centuries. The Danish Wadden Sea Islands have never been inhabited by Frisians. The outlying German island of Helgoland, although ethnically one of the Frisian Islands, is not situated in the Wadden Sea.

The German part of the Wadden Sea was the setting for the 1903 Erskine Childers novel The Riddle of the Sands.

The Netherlands ed in Western Europe and with three island territories in the Caribbean. The European part of the Netherlands borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, sharing maritime borders with Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany. The largest and most important cities in the Netherlands are Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. Amsterdam is the country’s capital,while The Hague holds the Dutch seat of government and parliament. The port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe – as large as the next three largest combined.

The Netherlands’ name literally means “Low Country”, influenced by its low land and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are man-made. Since the late 16th century, large areas (polders) have been reclaimed from the sea and lakes, amounting to nearly 17% of the country’s current land mass.

With a population density of 406 people per km² – 497 if water is excluded – the Netherlands is a very densely populated country for its size. Only Bangladesh, South Korea, and Taiwan have both a larger population and a higher population density. Nevertheless, the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest exporter of food and agriculture products, after the United States. This is due to the fertility of the soil and the mild climate.

The Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to have an elected parliament, and since 1848 it has been governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, organised as a unitary state. The Netherlands has a long history of social tolerance and is generally regarded as a liberal country, having legalised abortion, prostitution and euthanasia, while maintaining a progressive drugs policy. In 2001 it became the world’s first country to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, Eurozone, G-10, NATO, OECD, WTO and a part of the trilateral Benelux economic union. The country is host to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The first four are situated in The Hague, as is the EU’s criminal intelligence agency Europol and judicial co-operation agency Eurojust. This has led to the city being dubbed “the world’s legal capital”. The Netherlands is also a part of the Schengen Area.

The Netherlands has a market-based mixed economy, ranking 17th of 177 countries according to the Index of Economic Freedom. It had the thirteenth-highest per capita income in the world in 2013 according to the International Monetary Fund. In 2013, the United Nations World Happiness Report ranked the Netherlands as the fourth happiest country in the world, reflecting its high quality of life.

Wadden Island Estuary at Sunset, The Netherlands

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