The ESS/BIO Zwin Field Trip

Did you know the Bar-Tailed Godwit can fly from Alaska to New Zealand, up to 11,500km, without pausing for food or rest? This Alaskan shorebird is just one of the many that take up residence at Het Zwin.

Het Zwin is a protected nature reserve in the Belgian community of Knokke-Heist, which lies at the border between Flanders and the Netherlands. Captured between dunes and a dike, Het Zwin is the remains of a historical water channel which connects to the North Sea and Bruges. It is home to many important migratory birds, including the Bar-tailed Godwit. According to biologists, this bird has the longest migration distance ever measured.

The Zwin science field trip (for Environmental Systems and Societies, and Biology students) has been a part of the ISB programme for the past twenty-five years. This year I was lucky enough to be part of the trip. The aim was for students to experience collecting data and working in the field, as well as working on independent and group studies in a real-life, thriving natural environment. During the trip, I acquired new skills in relation to my field, grew closer to my classmates, and learned new information about the natural environment and how humans interact with it.

Our part of the trip was centered around Het Zwin's famous intertidal zone, where there is a vast diversity of flora and fauna in the flats and marshes. The majority of my work was directed towards the tides and the rocks on a wave breaker, between the water and the shore. The work I had to do required a painstaking attention to detail; it was also my first experience collecting data in the field. Being introduced to that environment and its impact on tourism and education in the surrounding society was an enriching experience for me.

The Zwin field trip taught me how to work in the field on my own. Individual work in a natural environment teaches students how to think creatively and work outside their comfort zone. It helps to promote risk-taking, and primarily taught me that no question that I could ask my teacher was a wrong one; this is a valuable lesson which I will use, I am sure, time and time again in a classroom setting. Additionally, I was introduced to a wide variety of new flora and fauna, and how social and political conflicts between Flanders and the Netherlands have presented an obstacle to the preservation of nature in the Zwin in the past, as well as the solutions that biologists and environmentalists have used to preserve the Zwin in the past decade, including their plans for the future. By and large, the field trip to Het Zwin has not only given me a new perspective on the environment, but on working in the field, and on who I am as a learner.

Written By Chloé Brown, 12th Grade, ESS Student