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EMODnet and Extraction Activities: Feedback Opportunities

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The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the first piece of EU legislation specifically aimed at the protection of the marine environment and natural resources, creating a framework for the sustainable use of the EU marine waters. It was formally adopted by the European Union in July 2008. The overarching goal of the MSFD is to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) by 2020 across Europe’s marine environment.

The MSFD establishes a transparent framework for an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities which supports the sustainable use of marine goods and services, guaranteeing a good state of the marine environment.

Like with other EU Legislation, the conceptual basis of the MSFD was the DPSIR approach (Drivers – Pressures – State – Impacts – Responses). The DPSIR permits to describe the relationship between the human activities and the environment and provides a mechanism for analysing environmental problems with regards to sustainable development. The MSFD establishes a list of 11 descriptors to evaluate the environmental status (State). In addition, it provides an indicative list of Pressures and Impacts of human activities, aiming at establishing cause-effects relationships that can help to propose measures (Responses) to improve the environmental status, especially in areas not fulfilling the objectives.

Aggregate extraction and dredging are activities recognized to potentially cause significant environmental impact. Both the operation of removing material from the bottom as well as its relocation in another place can affect the marine ecosystem by its impact on the benthic communities (both in the extraction area and in the disposal zone), the remobilization of contaminants from the sediments, changes in siltation, changes in hydrological features that could affect bottom profiles and beaches, production of underwater noise during the operations, etc. All this can affect some services for humans,like fishing resources, beaches, etc. (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Dredging Pros & Cons (source:

Dredging activities and the disposal of dredged materials in Europe are regulated by national authorities, normally based on international guidelines (e.g. OSPAR guidelines). To guarantee the environmental sustainability of these activities, projects are normally subjected to environmental impact assessment process and the corresponding consent and control procedures. In some cases, it is not easy to assess the geographic extent, the severity and the temporal dynamics of the impact of an extraction in one specific area, as well as the capacity of the system to recover after the ceasing of the activities. In this regard, information from different ecosystems components (water, sediments, habitats, species) and disciplines (physics, chemistry, geology, biology, etc.) are necessary to make a comprehensive assessment. Moreover, data and information from other areas where similar activities have been carried out can help as well to better understand and assess the effects of these activities on the environmental status of the considered area.

The European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) provides information, data and data products of Europe’s seas aiming at unlocking fragmented and hidden marine data resources and making these available to individuals and organisations. Regarding extraction activities (aggregate extraction, dredging) the GIS data available at the EMODnet Human Activities portal provides information on these activities in the European sea-basins (Figure 2). Although the available information covers a spatial and temporal extent, it could be improved by data user’s collaboration.

Figure 2. Aggregate extraction (left) and dredging (right) activities available at the EMODnet Human activities portal.

In addition to this, the data available in other portals of EMODnet can be of interest in the consent, impact assessment and control procedures of extraction projects. Before the selection of an extraction area, information from Bathymetry, Geology, Seabed Habitats and Biology portals could be useful to locate the areas that should be avoided because of the possible presence of protected habitats and species. In addition, data available on Chemistry and Physics portals would help in the impact assessment as well as in the control procedures by providing robust background and reference values of relevant variables in the study area (e.g. contaminants in the sediments and in the water column), by helping to understand physical processes in the water column and fluxes between the sediments and the water, etc.

Moreover, it’s not only that EMODnet can provide relevant information for extraction projects, but feedback should be promoted by integrating the specific information and data obtained from the extraction projects in the EMODnet database. This would contribute to increase the interest and utility of EMODnet, especially to stakeholders related to extraction activities.

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 21st, 2018 | Written by

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