A Disappearing Playground

Scientists warn that the western coast of Sylt is one of the most fragile ecosystems in Germany and may one day be reclaimed by the sea. The entire island is little more than a strip, only 550m (1,800 ft.) wide at its narrowest point, that's composed mostly of sand and very little rock. As such, it presents little resistance to the onslaught of erosion and deterioration. The sand dunes, warmed by the Gulf Stream, are forever shifting, and the winds sweeping in from the North Sea can move them by as much as 3.5m (11 ft.) in only a year. Although the winter months in general, and storms at any time of the year, are highly destructive, it's during strong south winds that most erosion takes place, and on some mornings after violent storms, huge amounts of sand migrate from the beachfront out into the North Sea.

In the 1970s, a series of Tetrapoden (four-legged concrete structures that look like giant jacks) were built on the sands of Westerland and Hornum beaches, in an unsuccessful attempt to hold back erosion. (They were later judged useless, and their construction was discontinued.)

Today, everyone's favorite solution is one of the simplest: Whenever funds are allocated by the municipal budget, you'll see one or more barges moored offshore, pumping sand from deepwater sites back onto beaches of Sylt. Severe penalties exist for anyone removing salt grasses and scrub from the beachfronts, as do strict regulations against building new houses on fragile land.

If there is an air of desperation about the Germans who love and frolic in this North Sea playground, it is because they know it won't be here forever.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.