The Dutch Shipworm Epidemic of the 1730s


within the fall of 1730 following a extraordinarily minor typhoon, Dutch dike inspectors inside the province of Zeeland found a little-acknowledged “computer virus” embedded inside the wave breakers that buffered coastal dikes. The animal bored into their timber additives, growing a honeycomb of passages that prompted them to snap at some stage in the storm. The invader changed into the naval shipworm (Teredo navalis), a cryptogenic marine mollusk, now observed international. subsequent inspections on the island found out that almost every dike included with wood contained shipworms, prompting a disaster of existential proportions. with out these obstacles, the earthen our bodies of sea dikes might be directly subjected to the erosive pressure of storm surges. The shipworm infestation “cannot be visible as some thing” aside from an event of “the utmost effect, if now not total damage of the island,” acccording to dike inspector Edualdus Reynvaan.


news of this novel disaster unfold fast, and by using 1731, Dutch inspectors in Holland and the province of Friesland found similar infestations alongside their dikes, sluices, and harbors.
inventive rendering of the shipworms in “three pieces of oaken wooden from the pilework on the ocean dikes” drawn “from lifestyles”
ecu mariners had been already acquainted with shipworms like

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T. navalis before 1730. that they had attacked the timber hulls of buying and selling vessels due to the fact antiquity and provided massive demanding situations for long-term voyages following the growth of ecu commerce into the East and West Indies. those new connections likely added the shipworm to the Netherlands, but their populations did not explode until the autumn of 1730 whilst a series of hot, dry summers possibly reduced freshwater river outflow and extended the salinity of the Southern Sea (now referred to as the IJssel Lake) and the Rhine/Meuse Delta vicinity.


This aggregate of temperature and salinity increases created ideal conditions for an outbreak.

Media identity: 3167
Media identification: 3167
Media id: 3167
Reconstructed salinity of the Rhine/Meuse Delta and conditions of habitats for shipworms with average precipitations.

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Reconstructed salinity of the Rhine/Meuse Delta and conditions of habitats for shipworms underneath drought conditions

Mariners’ experience with the shipworm largely didn’t percolate into public attention, and over a good deal of the 1730s, Dutch water government struggled to evolve to this biological invasion.

The shipworm additionally instigated an global response from natural historians, technocrats, non secular authorities, and laypeople who proposed treatments for the “shipworm epidemic.” Proposals ranged from coating piles in tar, to cladding them in copper, to the development of inland “sleeper dikes” within the event that coastal dikes failed.

this contemporary print indicates dike workers casting off piles from a coastal revetment. The exaggerated size of the shipworms was a pictorial conference, but it additionally accentuated the large interpretation of this invasive species.

with the aid of the quit of the 1730s, many regions of the Netherlands had followed a model of the thought for redesigned dikes published via water government from Holland named Pieter Straat and Pieter van der Deure. This design broadened and enlarged dike our bodies and removed most wood elements from the water by way of layering huge stones on the seaward slope. by way of the give up of the 1730s, with the return of moist weather and reduced quantities of available timber, the epidemic subsided.


West Frisian water government Pieter Straat and Pieter van der Deure published their layout for a “new dike slope covered in stone” in a 1735 pamphlet. This photo from that pamphlet highlights the West Frisian dike’s broader base, the retention of shock absorbing “wier” (dried sea grass) and the removal of wooden from the water, changed as a substitute with stone at the seaward aspect.
The shipworm narrative is frequently dealt with in Dutch historiography as a technological success tale, and without query, Dutch dikes emerged from this disaster more potent than earlier than. The shipworm danger was not eliminated, however. New shipworm infestations emerged sporadically in Holland and across the North Sea within the 1770s and 1850s. those outbreaks another time came about at some stage in droughts, which proven the degree to which environmental and technological conditions mediated outbreaks.
T. Navalis remains an expensive and pervasive danger to wood systems these days. Shipworms preserve to threaten wooden harbor infrastructure and ships worldwide and pose a tremendous project for marine archeology. Shipworm infestations will probable growth in significance as weather change and decreased water pollutants make bigger the ecological barriers of the species.

The Netherlands have long relied on sea dikes anchored by using timber palisades.1 in the course of the early autumn storms of 1730, however, even recently established poles unexpectedly broke off. This become strange and gravely threatening, considering the fact that holes within the sea dikes might obviously result in serious flooding in more extreme climate conditions. In 1730, the damage became first perceived on the Zeelandic isle of Walcheren, for the duration of the subsequent 12 months in West Frisia – near the small town of Medemblik – , and ultimately in different North Sea coastal regions and harbours. within the beginning, now not much turned into acknowledged approximately the agent of the harm, which become because of the teredo navalis, a marine bivalve mollusc. The lack of awareness in part explains why it took see you later before it became clear how the molluscs can be correctly combatted. within the intervening time, diverse factors have been presented, now not only within the affected areas, however also in areas in which comparable wooden constructions were used for water defence.2 The infestation aroused anxious reactions across the eighteenth-century Dutch Republic.

up to now, the historiography has mainly targeted on analysing the course of the 1730s shipworm epidemic, its consequences and ability treatments. recently, as an instance, Adam Sundberg as compared the shipworm to both floods and livestock plagues throughout the overdue 17th and eighteenth centuries.three In 2003, José Mouthaan published an article coping with the cutting-edge debate about the shipworm epidemic. The sources she used consisted mainly of pamphlets and sermons.four different students, together with A. C. Carter-Le Mesurier and J. A. Bakker, additionally based their conclusions at the same cloth and on governmental documents, together with resolutions.five

until now the information media disseminating statistics about the shipworm infestation has not performed a outstanding function in research on the epidemic. but, its content and e-book policy can train us greater approximately the approaches wherein societies dealt with catastrophes inside the past. The diploma of attention that information media devote to disasters is depending on the various differences between these catastrophes. Tragedies taking location nearby and having many victims or a great deal damage have always been breaking information of their instantaneous environment nearly instantly, at the least in political systems without censorship and fear of interfering authorities.6 however, slowly growing screw ups typically generate most effective modest media attention within the starting, followed by using one or extra peaks related to unique elements, including new research or measures to resolve the issues. furthermore, it’s far obtrusive that information approximately failures can also help to form extra resilience among the populations concerned, but may additionally convey tension and unrest, especially whilst sensational, false or ominous statistics has been offered. We may also assume that, essentially, this became not very distinctive in preceding centuries, even though the ways in which people might also react to catastrophes have modified notably.7

this newsletter is intended as an early cutting-edge case examine of the position of information media during catastrophes. How did contemporary Dutch news media document damage caused by the shipworm and how should we investigate the ones reports? How did Dutch authorities use the newspapers to increase suitable measures towards the shipworm? First, this text discusses the question of when and wherein newspapers, news items approximately the shipworm seemed. the second one segment examines information assets that protected, in assessment to newspapers, not handiest news however also touch upon the catastrophe and files about rules to fight the shipworm. precise interest can be given to the Europische Mercurius [European Mercury], due to the fact that this news digest – the most prominent of Dutch news digests of the time – contained numerous extensive appendices regarding the topic.

a way to cite
Sundberg, Adam. “Molluscan Explosion: The Dutch Shipworm Epidemic of the 1730s.” surroundings & Society Portal, Arcadia (2015), no. 14. Rachel Carson middle for environment and Society.

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