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 Building with Nature Guideline > Projects > Pioneer salt marsh restoration for coastal protection - Eastern Scheldt, NL

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Pioneer salt marsh restoration for coastal protection - Eastern Scheldt, NL

Location: Eastern Scheldt, The Netherlands
Date: 2012 - present
Involved parties: IMARES, NIOZ (former NIOO-CEME), Ecoshape.

Technical Readiness Level: 5 ( technology validated in relevant environment )

Environment: Estuaries
Topics: Ecology, Spartina anglica, cord grass, saltmarshes, coastal protection, measures against erosion, biodiversity.



Building with Nature designTraditional design

Salt marshes can protect coastal zones from currents and waves by stabilizing sediments and reducing wave action. The structures associated with the plants also induce deposition of sediment and organic material from the water column. This material is a source of food for fauna associated with these habitats. Salt marshes also provide economic benefits and contribute to a healthier ecosystem functioning.

Historically, coastal protection schemes have relied on hard infrastructure solutions such as seawalls, jetties and groins while ignoring or even destroying coastal marshes that could add to the protection.  Moreover, hard structures often reflect part of the incoming wave energy, thus exposing the foreshore to extra wave action. This explains why seawalls often lead to a loss of beach.



Saltmarshes grow in the highest zone of beaches and mud flats. They can protect shorelines by stabilizing sediments and reducing currents and wave action. In this project Spartina anglica plants fixed in coconut mats are applied at three locations in the Eastern Scheldt, in order to investigate the potential of this method to re-establish pioneer saltmarsh. Under the right conditions (e.g. sufficient sediment input), the Spartina plants should grow out and form larger tussocks and subsequently meadows, thus adding to coastal protection, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.


Initiation phase 

In the Eastern Scheldt (The Netherlands), a continuous net erosion of the intertidal flats takes place. Salt marshes are declining and experience erosion, whereas pioneer saltmarsh has almost disappeared. This is a consequence of the morphological disequilibrium caused by the construction of the storm surge barrier and compartmentalization dams in the 1980s. In this pilot Ecoshape investigates a new method to re-establish    Spartina anglica    (cord grass) in an attempt to protect higher intertidal areas against erosion and to promote the development of pioneer saltmarsh. When certain conditions are met (e.g. sufficient sediment input), the plants may grow in time into healthy salt marshes and add to the biodiversity and ecological functioning of the area.

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Planning and design phase

In 2012 Building with Nature tested whether  Spartina  plants pre-grown in coconut fibre mats can be installed in front of existing salt marshes and/or artificial salt marsh defense structures. Before planning and design could lead to actual construction, the project had to be legally approved. Because the Dutch Eastern Scheldt is a national park under Natura 2000, local authorities had to verify whether the installation of the cord grass mats would not jeopardize the local conservation goals of the area.

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Construction phase

Pre-grown cord grass mats were provided by  Nautilus–Ecociviel . Installation of the mats at the three test locations was done by NIOZ, IMARES and Nautilus–Ecociviel.

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Operation and Maintenance phase

During the operation and maintenance phase of the Building with Nature pilots, the mats and cord grass and their effects on the adjacent intertidal flats were monitored. 

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Lessons Learned

Although the salt marsh did not develop in the way it was planned in this project, lessons can be learned from it. 

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