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Marine Aggregates Production

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Marine aggregates are naturally occurring sediment deposits found on the coastal areas or the continental shelf. Consisting of sands, gravels and shells/shell debris, this non-metallic sediment deposits have been formed as a result of either contemporary (modern) or past sedimentary/hydrodynamic processes (relict deposits).

Extraction of aggregates is long established in some European countries (e.g., the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands) to secure material used as construction aggregate, for beach nourishment and for land reclamation. However, marine aggregates, as a non-renewable resource, are finite. Therefore, they should be used in a sustainable manner and effective policies/administrative frameworks should be developed to address future demand.

In general, marine aggregates production incorporates 3 main phases:

  1. identification of the potential deposit,
  2. evaluation (prospecting) of the deposit, and
  3. aggregate extraction.

The identification of the potential deposit is often linked to marine research projects, such as general geological mapping of the seabed and/or habitat mapping. Different European countries have developed geological and seabed habitat maps of their coastal area. ‘EMODnet Geology’ (http://www.emodnet-geology.eu/) has succeeded in bringing together harmonised offshore data including sea-floor geology, seabed substrates and mineral resources (including aggregate deposits) and ‘EMODnet Seabed Habitats’ (http://www.emodnet-seabedhabitats.eu/) has created a broad-scale physical habitat map for all European sea-basins.

Figure: Maps of the aggregate deposits and seabed habitats in Europe, available at the ‘EMODnet Geology’ and ‘EMODnet Seabed Habitats’ portals.

If an area appears promising, a prospecting license will be obtained, according to the procedures in place in each country, to evaluate the potential of the deposit in detail. The evaluation of the deposits requires the use of specialized equipment, such as acoustic (seismic) sources and coring equipment.

Finally, if the deposit is found to be economically viable and environmentally acceptable (which is assessed by environmental impact assessment), an extraction license is obtained before aggregate extraction commences. The extraction activities should be controlled by the competent regulatory authorities. In several (but not all as it should) European countries, dredging vessels are required to be equipped with Electronic Monitoring Systems (“black boxes”), which allow obtaining accurate information on the extent and intensity of dredging operations (records the date, time and position of all dredging activity) and their compliance with the licensing terms.

At the ‘EMODnet Human Activities’ portal (http://www.emodnet-humanactivities.eu/) there is currently available a dataset on aggregate extractions, containing point locations for aggregate extraction sites in the European seas. In the updated dataset (available in October 2018), a new attribute will be included: the type of extracted material (e.g.: sand, gravel, maerl, etc.). In addition, a new dataset will be available with the aggregate extraction licenced areas (represented as polygons), that define the areas that have been granted for aggregate extraction. However, it should be taken in mind that the area available to be dredged at any one time is not all the licenced area, but there is not available information to represent the limits of these dredged areas.

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.

August 21st, 2018 | Written by

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