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 Building with Nature Guideline > Projects > Ecological landscaping of sand extraction sites, NL

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Ecological landscaping of sand extraction sites, NL

Location: The Netherlands, The Dutch coastal area in front of the Port of Rotterdam (PoR)
Date: Construction 2008 – 2012; Monitoring 2013 -2017.

Involved Parties: Boskalis and Van Oord (PUMA), Ecoshape, Port of Rotterdam (PoR), Rijkswaterstaat, Deltares, Wageningen Marine Research (WMR, former IMARES) and DHV.

Technology Readiness Level: 6 (prototype system tested in intended environment close to expected performance)

Environment : Sandy shores

Keywords: Ecosystem based landscaping, deep sand extraction, BwN, environmental monitoring, macrozoobenthos, demersal fish, sediment characteristics, hydrodynamics.


Building with Nature designTraditional design

Ecological research on tidal sand bars and sand waves shows that there are differences in the benthic community composition present on the troughs, slopes and crests. Ecosystem-based landscaped bed forms of a natural scale may induce similar ecological differences. A higher overall biodiversity and higher heterogeneity may develop within sand extraction sites.

A traditional design of a sand extraction site is characterized by a flat seabed. After extraction, biodiversity and biomass will develop in a rather homogeneous pattern.







The goal of the pilot experiment is to test whether ecosystem-based landscaping enhances biodiversity after cessation of the sand extraction activities. Present sand extraction policy aims at restoration of the original pre-dredging habitat. This is, however, a limiting approach. Flat seabeds tend to be ecologically less valuable than seabeds with meso-scale bed forms such as tidal ridges, shore face connected ridges and sand waves. Such bed forms provide habitat to a larger range of species assemblages.

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Planning and design

The Planning and Design works for the Maasvlakte Sand Extraction pilot consisted of the following phase and aspects:

  • Initiation phase during which the various options have been developed and tested for their basic feasibility;
  • The pre-feasibility phase in which the scientific hypothesis for the proposed solution was elaborated and substantiated;
  • Feasibility phase during which in broad consultation the objectives and procedures for the pilot were established; it also included the selection of the test location.


It is obvious that such pilot, set within the national coastal policy and as part of a commercially running construction project only could have been made with due attention to governance aspects.

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After the planning phase, the actual dredging and creation of the sand bars started. The dredging activities mainly took place during slack tide. Normal dredging occurs in line with the tidal current and filling of the hopper occurred when sailing from the northern to the southern part and vice versa. Changes in the dredging direction can induce constraints with regards to lateral deviation of the trailing arms and the drag heads.

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Around 2009, knowledge on the relationship between ecology and the seabed was predominantly based on expert judgement and a few scattered data sets. This project offered a unique opportunity to gather field data. During design and preparation of the project a solid monitoring plan was drafted, making use of on data collected in a baseline study. During the recolonization phase after the sand extraction operation and the development of ecosystem-based landscaped sand bars much data from short term monitoring campaigns was gathered. Next to monitoring results about short-term effects, medium and long-term data are currently collected during the recolonization measurements of the Port of Rotterdam (PoR).

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Lessons Learned

During the MV2 sand extraction project, many new insights were gained concerning technical and ecological aspects of the design and the organisation of large scale, deep sand extraction projects and ecosystem-based landscaping. The project also generated a broad discussion amongst the various stakeholders on how changing physical conditions can trigger the development of new ecological habitats. 

An important lesson learned is that ecosystem-based landscaping in sand extraction sites only make sense if:

  • the sand extraction volume and area are large enough for ecosystem-based landscaping to have maximum added value;
  • Ecosystem-based landscaping can be used to increase ecological value (de Jong et al., 2015; De Jong et al., 2016, 2014) ; and
  • Ecosystem-based landscaping can be carried out during the extraction process without additional equipment mobilisation and with minimal interference to the overall sand extraction production process.


Overall, it became clear that it is still too early to prescribe landscaping to other sand extraction projects, even if they meet the above conditions. The present pilot experiment is still on-going and, although the concept appears to be positive, its added ecological value remains scientifically to be proven.

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