De Kaloot: A fossil treasure trove in The Netherlands

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Frank Wesselingh (The Netherlands)

In the southern Delta area of the Netherlands, several beaches exist where the collector can collect a wide variety of Tertiary and Quaternary fossils. One of the well-known beaches is that of Cadzand that has been particularly rich in fossil shark teeth (but also fossil shells). The richest of the Dutch localities, a beach called De Kaloot, was under threat because of a proposed container terminal that would obliterate most, if not all, of the beach.

Fig. 2. A view down the bank at De Kaloot.
Fig. 3. A walk along the beach at De Kaloot.

De Kaloot is located on the North bank of the Westerschelde estuary. Tidal currents are very powerful, eroding the seabed in front of the beach down to 60m in depth. As a result, five different fossiliferous formations in the subsurface are revealed. The fossils from these deposits find their way to the beach, especially after heavy SW storms.

The fossil finds are diverse but comprise mainly fossil shells of Pliocene and Quaternary age. We estimate that over 500 species have been collected from De Kaloot. In addition, from these shells, shark teeth, vertebrate remains, bryozoans and other fossil groups have been collected. On some days, about 75% of the shell banks consist of fossil shells. This locality is unrivalled in its species richness, and it is said that it is under threat.

In 1999, the Province of Zeeland, where De Kaloot is located, announced plans to build a container terminal. The whole beach would be transformed into a bay for large container ships, and the remainder area would be transformed into an industrial zone. After years of intense planning, political decision- making and protest, the Dutch Supreme Court threw out the plans. On three counts the plans were deemed unacceptable to the court. Amongst other things, the plans violated European rules concerning wetland habitats.

Fig. 1. Shark teeth collected at De Kaloot.

Unfortunately, the court’s decision seems to have functioned as a wake-up call for the Province. At the end of 2004, a new round of studies into the feasibility of the container terminal were announced. However, it appears that the threat has now receeded. The only two container terminals in the Netherlands remain the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Fig. 4. A selection of fossils from De Kaloot. All figures are drawn by G A Peeters (Schiedam, the Netherlands). Material in the Naturalis collection unless stated otherwise. From left to right: 1 Ostrea (Cubitostrea) ventilabrum Goldfuss, 1833. An Early Oligocene oyster; 2 Mimachlamys angelonii (De Stefani & Pantanelli, 1878). A Miocene pectinid; 3 Arca tetragona Poli, 1795. An Early Pliocene arc shell (nowadays living in warm temperate to subtropical settings); 4 Carcharodon carcharias Linnaeus, 1758. Assumed to be of Early Pliocene age. Collection B. de Jong (Middelburg, the Netherlands); 5 Raphitoma antonjanseni Marquet, 1998. A beautifully small snail of Late Pliocene age; 6 Epitonium frondiculum (Wood, 1848). A Pliocene snail. Acilla cobboldiae (Sowerby, 1817). An Early Pleistocene immigrant from the Pacific Ocean; 7 Bittium reticulatum (Da Costa, 1778). Eemian (Late Pleistocene) snail. The Eemian faunas on De Kaloot comprises all kind of warm-temperate species; and 8 Castor fiber Linnaeus, 1758. Beaver, also of an Eemian age. Collection B de Jong, Middelburg.

It is still possible to visit De Kaloot to search for fossils. De Kaloot is located about 7km to the east of Vlissingen. It is best to visit at low tide (check the tide table for Vlissingen).

Additional information (in Dutch)
Frank Wesselingh, Naturalis, Postbus 9517, 2300 RA Leiden,
Freddy van Nieulande, Scheldepoortstraat 56, 4339 BN, Nieuw en St Joosland,

De Kaloot. Photographs Freddy van Nieulande.

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