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The “disappearing” island of Sylt

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Located 20km (13 miles) west of the German/Danish border lies the island of Sylt.

The long, narrow island (pronounced Zoolt) is the northernmost point of Germany. Sylt lies in the North Sea off the coasts of Denmark and the German state Schleswig-Holstein. It is the largest island of the Frisian archipelago, which stretches through the North Sea from Denmark to the Netherlands.

Pounding North Sea storms seem to take more and more of the coastline each year. And some think that Sylt will one day disappear into the sea.

A disappearing playground

Scientists have warned that the western coast of Sylt is one of the most fragile ecosystems in Europe and may one day be reclaimed by the sea. The entire island is little more than a strip, only 550m (1,800ft) wide at its narrowest point, which is composed mostly of sand and very little rock. As such, it presents little resistance—especially after it’s been stripped of its tenacious salt grasses—to the onslaught of erosion and deterioration.

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.

“Look, the wind, the rain, and the sea are taking my island from me,” said one local with a kind of despair. “The crashing tides are claiming our coast.”

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

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