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EMODnet Human Activities » News » Marine aggregate extraction data to support new 2018 MSFD reporting phase

Marine aggregate extraction data to support new 2018 MSFD reporting phase

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A better understanding of the relationships between human pressures and ecosystems is one of the main challenges for marine waters quality assessment. Realising this is dependent upon the availability of reliable, complete, harmonized and, ideally, free data on marine and maritime human activities. These data are essential for effectively managing our seas and oceans in a way that achieves good environmental status as defined in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Most of the human activities included in the EMODnet Human Activities Portal can have significant impacts on the marine environment and, hence, EMODnet constitutes a useful tool to assess the marine environment.

According to article 17(2) of the MSFD, Member States (MS) have to update their marine strategies every six years and new reports on articles 8 (initial assessment), 9 (determination of good environmental status) and 10 (establishment of targets) have to be updated by 15 July 2018, and notified to the European Commission by 15 October 2018 at the latest. In particular, under Article 8, MS have to provide an analysis of the predominant pressures and impacts, including human activity, on the environmental status of national marine waters along with an economic and social analysis of the use of marine waters, and of the costs of their degradation.

Every year, more than 50 million m3 of marine aggregates are extracted from the European marine seabed. This material is mainly sand and gravel, but small amounts of shell and maerl (calcareous seaweed) are also extracted in some countries. The main uses of these materials are in the construction industry and for beach nourishment. Maerl is used in agriculture (to improve the quality of soils) and in water treatment systems (filtering material); shells are extracted to pave hiking trails. The biggest European aggregate extractors are the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, France and Belgium.

Marine aggregate extraction can have an impact on several components of the ecosystem. Seabed removal, the creation of sediment plumes, and vessel activity during extraction can be relevant to several environmental descriptors of the MSFD:

  • biological diversity (D1)
  • commercial fishes (D3)
  • marine food webs (D4)
  • sea-floor integrity (D6)
  • hydrographical conditions (D7)
  • underwater noise (D11)

The most direct impact from the aggregate extraction is the removal of the substrate and its associated organisms.

The biological recolonisation of areas from which sand and gravel have been extracted may occur quite quickly, although recovery will depend on the intensity, duration and frequency of extractions, as well as on local conditions in the extracted area. Biomass can be almost completely recovered two to four years after short-term extraction activities. The effects of the plumes of suspended material are transitory and, in general, not very relevant.

To ensure that marine aggregate extraction is managed in a sustainable manner, and that any ecosystem effects are understood so as to adopt mitigative measures where appropriate, there exist regulations and guidelines providing a framework for the management of impacts. Most European countries have legislation regarding sand and gravel extraction. OSPAR countries have agreed to apply guidelines developed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for managing the extraction of marine sediments. However, not all the countries report comprehensive extraction data. In addition, the requirements for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and the quality of the assessments themselves are very variable. In general, there are provisions for a brief environmental assessment in advance of any more extensive EIA. In some countries an EIA is required for all permits; others have numerical criteria (e.g. volume, area) either in law or policy that trigger EIAs.

Aggregate ExtractionIt is expected that demand for marine sand and gravel will increase in the coming years. To ensure that this does not compromise the good environmental status of the European marine environment, stringent implementation of the environmental guidelines and EIA assessments, harmonised and accurate reporting on the extent and impact of extraction, as well as measures to reduce impacts from sand and gravel extraction will all be necessary.

The available geodatabase on EMODnet, annually updated, contains information on aggregate extraction sites in the EU. Most of the data relate to the Atlantic area, information from the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea countries is scarce. The EMODnet Human Activities Team will focus on filling out gaps in the currently available datasets, developing new data products and fine-tuning the service to further improve its response to users’ needs.

The information and views set out in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on the European Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information therein.

December 19th, 2017 | Written by

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