A project by
Suzette Bousema

Mapping Dutch Waters

‘Mapping Dutch Waters’ is an outdoor installation by artist Suzette Bousema,
created for the exhibition ‘Oasis of wonderment’ at cultural haven Ruigoord in Amsterdam.
You can visit the installation from 24th of June 2023.

‘Mapping Dutch Waters’ is supported by Mondriaan Fund, Stichting Stokroos, Fentener van Vlissingen Fund and Stroom Den Haag.

The installation is part of Bousema’s overarching artistic research project ‘Dead zones’. Man-made dead zones are areas in coastal waters where almost no life is possible due to oxygen minimum conditions. Micro algae blooms are fed by fertilizers from agriculture and other human waste streams, that flow towards the sea via an intricate network of ditches, canals, small ponds, and lakes. When these blooms decompose, all oxygen is used by bacteria, and nothing is left for other organisms.

The 1500 water samples in this installation were taken across the Netherlands in 2022 by more than 400 citizen scientists as part of collaborative research by environmental organization Natuur & Milieu and Netherlands Institute for Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).

In 2027 all water in the Netherlands needs to meet water quality requirements agreed upon in the European Union. To meet these standards the biological and chemical quality of the water needs to be sufficient. We have so much water in the country that only larger bodies of water like IJsselmeer, and bigger lakes and canals are measured for this monitoring. This regular monitoring already shows that we are at the bottom of the list of water quality in Europe. 

The Netherlands has 300.000 kilometer of ditches alone. This way more than 1/3rd of surface water is not considered for this official monitoring. Environmental organization Natuur & Milieu sets out to change this by researching ‘small’ bodies of water, like streams, canals, small ponds, and lakes across the country in collaboration with Netherlands Institute for Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). Their research in 2022 shows that only 20% of Dutch waters meet the European norms.


Suzette Bousema is an artist who visualizes contemporary environmental topics in collaboration with scientists. She works interdisciplinary with printmaking, glass, weaving, sound, smell, installation and performance.

The installation was made in collaboration with Thieu Smeets, a multidisciplinary maker and metalworker. By using themes like vision, myth and ritual, his aim is to stimulate imagination. He creates artworks and installations for galleries, theatre and festivals.

This project was achieved in collaboration with Karen Eilers (Natuur & Milieu, program leader sustainability of food production), Sven Teurlincx (NIOO-KNAW, aquatic ecologist) and Rosan van Halsema from (NIOO-KNAW, research assistant).

Water quality is measured by different parameters; clarity of the water, the concentration of nutrients and the amount of organisms and plants in the water. These are rated good (+), moderate (+/-) or bad (-).

Clarity of the water is a good indicator, because it tells you how many algae there are in the water, but also how much organic material flows into the system. When the water is clear enough, water plants can grow. Plants always start from the bottom and have to grow upwards. If the water is not clear enough, they cannot grow, and the system lacks in structure.

A clear indication of bad water quality is when the surface of the water is completely covered with duckweed. Duckweed are tiny plants that float on the water and have roots that are directly in the water. Concentrations of nutrients in the water have to be very high for duckweed to form. When the surface of the water is completely covered, no light is passing through. Water plants under it cannot do photosynthesis without light and will stop producing oxygen. The result will be water without any oxygen, in which organisms cannot live.

Click on one of the provinces in the index to check out the water quality per sample in the installation.

© Suzette Bousema