Exploring The Sea Life of Denmark's Romo Island


Romo Island // (c) 2011 Holger Zscheyge/Wikipedia

dpa, Berlin, June 28, 2011
By Andreas Heimann

TOFTUM, Denmark -- The sparsely populated Danish island of Romo has long been a popular location for tourists thanks to its miles of dunes and unique mud flats.

The southernmost of Denmark's Wadden Sea Islands is linked to the Danish mainland by a road running across a causeway and can also be reached by ferry from the neighbouring German island of Sylt.

The ebbing tide offers tour guide Inger Sonnichsen the opportunity to explain about the sperm whales and squid that live off Romo's coast as she leads her group along the island's exposed mudflats.

Cockles, oysters and avocets are all in plentiful supply here, explains Sonnichsen as she takes a small digging fork from her satchel.

"Large sand mussels live for up to 10 years and can be found at a depth of around 30 centimetres. Cockles, on the other hand, are located at a depth of 1cm and are often dug up by oystercatchers," she explains.

Romo is an ideal location for birds while the Wadden Sea Islands are thought to be home to an estimated 20 million birds each year. Over 280 different bird species can be found on Romo which also attracts huge flocks of migratory birds.

Sonnichsen reveals to her group how eiders manage to eat mussels. The birds simply swallow the mussels whole and the shells are then dissolved in their stomachs by gastric acids.

The mussel's greatest enemy, however, is the starfish. "It simply lies on top of the mussel and sucks it out of its shell," she says.

Sonnichsen picks up a couple of tiny mud snails and tells how they live off a diet of diatom algae, one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Sperm whales, meanwhile, love squid. "They simply swallow them whole," she says.

Whales are not that plentiful in the waters off Romo although the island's inhabitants were involved in whaling over the centuries.

The best whaling years for the island took place around 1770 when over 1,900 people lived on Romo. Today the island is inhabited by less than 700 people, who are outnumbered by Romo's 1,100 sheep.

A pod of sperm whales beached on the island in the middle of the 1990s. The largest whale weighed in excess of 40 tonnes and its 15m-long skeleton can be seen in the island's museum in Toftum in the north-eastern corner of Romo.

Unlike whales, seals are plentiful in the waters around Romo, especially in June and July when the pups are born. Shrimps are also found in abundance. "Once caught they are cooked on the trawlers and sold to a Dutch firm which brings them to Morocco where they are peeled," explains Sonnichsen.

Seaweed used to be part of the islanders' diet and was also used to fill cushions and mattresses. "It can be cooked or eaten raw and tastes a little like a mix of sea and plastic," she says.

The mudflats are also peppered with the coiled castings of lugworms, which are rarely seen unless dug up to be used by fishermen as bait.

The highpoint of the mudflat tour is the search for oysters. "The native species died out around half a century ago," says Sonnichsen. "The oysters that live here today come from Japan."

The Japanese variety are larger and have stronger shells. "They are delicious with with some lemon and butter," she says. "And one in a hundred contains a pearl."