The North Sea is littered with wrecks - veritable time capsules


Thousands of ship and aircraft wrecks make up an underwater cemetery of great archaeological value in the North Sea, comprising prehistoric boats, Viking ships, steamships, submarines and other warships, fishing boats and, more recently, sunken cargo ships. The number of wrecks is estimated at 290 in the Belgian part alone.

Maritime archaeologist Sven Van Haelst has accomplished a monumental task for the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ). 62 of these 290 wrecks have not yet given up their secrets, or not all of them. The 228 others have now been largely identified: their name, material, cargo, characteristics, age, history, exact location, etc. We can also see much more clearly into this huge pile of scrap metal at the bottom of the sea, a tangle of mines, bombs, machine guns and therefore also remains of ships and planes.

Many wrecks are the silent witnesses of the naval battles of the two World Wars. Their ecotoxicological effects on humans and animals are considerable, as they pollute the environment with large quantities of materials and substances.  Examples include military equipment, unexploded ordnance and all kinds of chemicals such as fuels and lubricants. Some of these chemicals leak immediately after the shipwreck, while others are released decades later due to the corrosion of the wreck. From another point of view, wrecks can also be considered biodiversity hotspots, where we can find life forms very different from those of the surrounding sea bottom.

In any case, the result is a fascinating underwater landscape.