Between 40 and 82 million m³ of marine sediment was extracted annually in the OSPAR region (North-East Atlantic and North Sea) (ICES 2019) during the years 2015-2018, mainly for the benefit of the construction industry and coastal protection.
At European level, the impact caused by the extraction of sediments on the marine environment is included in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Some of the descriptors used to assess good environmental status are relevant to the extraction of marine sediments: descriptor 6 on the seafloor integrity (Rice et al. 2010, ICES 2019b), descriptor 1 on the conservation of biodiversity (Cochrane et al. 2010), descriptor 4 on marine food webs (Rogers et al. 2010), descriptor 7 on the hydrographic conditions (Walker et al. 2016, ICES 2016, ICES 2017, Fettweis et al. 2020) and descriptor 11 on the introduction of energy, including underwater noise (Tasker et al. 2010). The sand and gravel extraction in the BNS is monitored by the Continental Shelf Service (FPS Economy), MUMM and ILVO.
In the Belgian part of the North Sea (BNS), sand is the most extracted type of sediment in recent decades, with an annual volume that fluctuated between 2 and 4 million m³ over the last ten years (FPS Economy, S.M.Es, Self-employed and Energy 2020). A significant part of this is used for beach nourishments in function of coastal protection. Gravel is generally not extracted in the BNS due to the extremely limited presence, the small grain size and the heterogeneity of the material in the permitted areas (FPS Economy, S.M.Es, Self-employed and Energy 2020).
The zones for sand and gravel extraction are legally demarcated in the marine spatial plan (MSP 2020-2026, as stipulated in the RD of 22 May 2019, see also Verhalle and Van de Velde 2020). In total, it concerns five control zones for which concessions can be obtained. In addition, a reference zone for monitoring is also demarcated, which is similar to the sand extraction areas in terms of sediment and habitat composition and where sand and gravel extraction is prohibited in order to monitor the impact on the environment. This closed zone in the current MSP is located on the Thornton Bank (THBREF zone) and also serves as a reference area for wind turbine activities in the BNS.
More information on sand and gravel extraction in the BNS can be found on the website of the Compendium for Coast and Sea.
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