Building with Nature BwN Guideline Environments Project phases Governance BwN Knowledge base
BwN Building Blocks BwN Toolbox Pilots and cases BwN Knowledge

Log in

Biological monitoring has shown that some artificial hard coastal structures, such as dikes, harbour extensions, piers, dams and groynes provide a habitat for valuable and diverse species communities. Continuously, coastal structures are maintained, repaired or upgraded. This affects existing hard substrate communities and can result in long term degradation of hard substrate habitat diversity. Standard design is not optimized to provide ecological values in addition to the main civil engineering objectives. The diverse dike concept explores the possibility of optimizing hard structures for habitat creation. By selecting substrate characteristics that aim at the improvement of habitat diversity for organisms living on and under the water level, the bio-productivity and the biodiversity can be increased.

Building with Nature Design Traditional Design

In the perspective of total cost of dike upgrade, the additional cost of introducing water retaining pools, additional types of limestone and additional sorting in the berm is marginal. In the eco-engineering design this berm is engineered to produce variable profiles (in slope, material and sorting) in both perpendicular and alongshore directions. 
Monitoring has shown that water retaining pools with additional sorting of limestone increases the biodiversity dramatically in the intertidal zone. The pools function as sheltering habitat for many shrimp and smaller fish species. Algae productivity is increased in the pools.


In a standard design, the required safety level is maintained by parts of dike construction situated above the average high water mark. Lower zones, such as the intertidal berm are not crucial to safety and allow degrees of freedom in the design process. In the traditional design this berm is engineered to produce monotonous profiles (in slope, material and sorting) in both perpendicular and alongshore directions.

    General Project Description





    Along dike sections near Yerseke and Wemeldinge, The Netherlands


    2008 - 2013


    Deltares, WINN, Rijkswaterstaat, Project Agency Zeeweringen, Waterschap Scheldestromen


    An increase compared to the standard dike design, dependent on the scale and the choice of materials.


    Construction of Ecobasins along dikes to improve biodiversity and bio-productivity


    Ecobasins, dike strengthening

    Project objective

    Structural works like dikes are mostly designed purely from a safety point of view. Optimization for enhancing ecological functions is not often considered in the design phase. However, ecological issues are important. In Natura 2000 area Oosterschelde, the dike upgrades should result in zero nett change of nature value of each dike section compared to the original situation. The objective of ecobasins is to contribute to the ecological value of a dike and create a nett positive contribution to natural value of the dike section. Other objectives are to create educational opportunities and to raise awareness of designers, constructors, students and visitors.

    Project solution

    In 2008 the Project Agency Zeeweringen (established by Rijkswaterstaat Zeeland and, Waterschap Scheldestromen) started a pilot project in cooperation with Rijke Dijken (Rich Revetments, in Dutch) on the Oosterschelde-dike of the Koude- and Kaarspolder, northwest of Yerseke. In 2010 a second project was implemented in a dike section along the Oosterschelde between Wemeldinge and Kattendijke.

    Within the pilot project near Yerseke tidal pools (so-called ecobasins) are applied in the "toe" of the dike, i.e. the fortified link between the dike slope and the foreshore. The dike toe traditionally consists of loose stones, protecting the dike foreshore against erosion. In the case of the Koude- and Kaarspolder, the dike toe was partly renewed, strengthened and maintained. As a pilot experiment, ecobasins were designed and constructed as part of the renewal of the dike toe. Along the 1 km dike 10 short pools (ecobasin type 1, 2m length) and 2 long pools (ecobasin type 2, 20m length) were created. The basins were made waterproof with a sheet of asphalt underneath a layer of lava stone, so that they would not empty during low tide. Within the basins various stone types and sortings provide fixation for algae and shelter for juvenile fish and macrofauna. See figures for design.

    The second project consists of much larger basins (5mx150m). These basins have been constructed with deep and shallow parts, were waterproofed with asphalt and the bed substrate was topped off with a layer of small lava stones (60-150mm). At some locations heaps of larger limestone (60-300kg) were constructed in the pools.

    Governance aspects

    In 2008 the Project Agency 'Zeeweringen' started the design and construction of the Rich Revetments near Yerseke. In 2010 they constructed another set of ecobasins with adapted design and size on the dike of the Stormesandepolder. The applied research institute Deltares (through the Rijkswaterstaat WINN programme) was involved in the generation of concepts and pre-designs, the selection of suitable locations and the involvement of stakeholders.

    The construction of the basins is an integral part of ongoing dike reconstruction works. Yet, a separate Natura 2000 license track had to be followed, because of possible negative effects on protected species. A project planning for the main dike reconstruction works was already underway, put the need for new licenses for the inclusion of the ecobasins on the critical path for the project as a whole.

    Important questions in the design phase were:

    1. Is the ecobasin scheme technically and economically feasible?
    2. Does it fit into the ongoing project planning?
    3. What are the ecological effects?

    Costs and benefits

    For an overview of the costs and benefits of ecobasins, the following indicators should be quantified:

    The costs consist of:

    • Investment costs (stones, asphalt etc.);
    • Maintenance costs (inspection for leakage, repair costs);
    • Project management costs (permits, process, contracts etc.).

    Note that the Government does not depreciate, i.e. they make no savings for rehabilitation or renewal at the end of the lifecycle of a structure.

    In the Netherlands, for traditional projects in which the dike toe has to be replaced, costs of a standard dike toe of 5 m width are about € 100 the linear meter. The costs of constructing the first prototype ecobasins in the dike toe were about € 400 the linear meter. The total cost of the revetment works of which the toe is a part, are estimated at about €1000 per linear meter. The total length of ecobasins constructed per kilometer was about 60m. Less expensive ecobasins are possible, however, by optimizing planning and construction methods. Ecobasins sealed with foil instead of asphalt or prefab concrete, for instance, are expected to be cheaper. Furthermore, optimisation between cost and basin-area is expected to be possible.

    Other costs were not monitored in this case. The project has the character of an experiment, since the cost-benefit picture of mainstream application has not yet been completed. Therefore, it is difficult to give an estimate of the project management costs. Estimating these project management costs for a traditional dike toe project gives some insight into the magnitude. Based on pre-calculations by Rijkswaterstaat, the costs for project management are about 18% of total cost. Costs for constructing ecobasins were part of total cost of a complete revetment reconstruction scheme. On-site availability of equipment for stone placement and working with asphalt made construction of the ecobasins more cost-effective. The design requirement of the reconstruction works as a whole is to provide long-term (50 yr) protection against flooding. Maintenance costs are minimized for all aspects of the design, including the basins. It is concluded that additional construction cost of this type and this amount f small ecobasins are marginal compared to total costs of the revetment reconstruction. It is expected that larger-scale basins are cheaper per unit area, because a certain volume of stone is replaced by the basin.


    • Increased biodiversity;
    • Education/raising awareness.
    • Creating opportunities for nature mitigation and compensation.

    In this case, quantifying the benefits is a lot more complicated than estimating the costs. Benefit quantification is the result of monitoring which was ongoing until the end of 2012. Results indicate increased biodiversity (factor 3-5) in the basins as compared with the surrounding intertidal toe area. Regular foraging of birds on organisms in the basins is observed. Therefore, effects on surrounding ecosystem can be expected. An inventory of species that utilize the basins could reveal that the basins provide benefits to ecosystem quality relevant for the Framework Directive or for species relevant for Natura 2000. This positive effect could be realistic for some red list bird species of the Netherlands (for instance Steenloper species, Turnstone).

    For more informsation see also De Vries, M.B., et al, 2010, De Vries, M.B., et al, 2009-1,De Vries, M.B., et al, 2009-2 and De Vries, M.B. et al, 2009-3.

    Planning and Design


    As a first step in the design process an analysis of the planned works and the ambient ecosystem is needed. On the basis of a set of conceptual designs a feasible technical design is realized and budgeted. A scan has been performed with the Project Agency to identify dike transects suitable for ecobasins.


    In the pre-feasibility assessment the following activities have been undertaken.

    • Discussion with the Agency on details of the engineering design and the specification of ecological and recreational potential.
    • Discussion with the Agency on the selection of suitable dike sections, taking planning aspects into account.
    • Analysis of local communities of hard substrate species as a reference situation.
    • Analysis of physical forcing factors and design criteria which may be relevant to the ecologically enhanced design. In this case wave exposure and siltation risk are critical design factors.
    • Analysis of the ambient ecosystem and identification of possible interactions and reinforcements. In this case a valuable diverse hard substrate community is already present. Maintaining and where possible enhancing this community is a requirement for dike reconstruction in the Eastern Scheldt.
    • Pre-design, valuation and costing of ecologically enhanced structures and presentation to the Agency.
    • Selection of the most promising eco-structure. In this case one focused on keeping the water at the dike toe and providing a suitable substrate for attachment of macro-algae.
    • Analysis of the physical aspects of the water system and the dike section (foreshore and intertidal morphology, wave conditions, dike stability, shape of the dike and the toe)
    • Inventory of stakeholders whose interests might be affected by the project (recreational activities such as scuba diving, commercial fishing, etc.)


    During the feasibility study the Rich Revetment plan was further developed via:

    • Technical design of the most promising eco-structure within the overall requirements and planning of the engineering works, including aspects such as:
      • Slopes and orientations
      • Choice of materials
      • Size distribution, porosity
      • Application method
      • Seeding method (if required)
      • Detailed costing and phasing within the overall project planning
    • Small-scale field trial
    • Set-up of monitoring and maintenance plans (clearly a necessity in the case of a pilot experiment). Duration of monitoring should be suitable to follow transition to a fully grown situation. This could take three to five years.

    General observations made are

    • The technical design team should include biological expertise in order to ensure an optimal design.
    • As the proposed approach is of a mainly empirical nature, field trials are an important way to establish the feasibility, site constraints and availability of biological recruits for colonisation at any new location. Ecobasin field trials concerning the effectiveness of type and sorting of the material are executed by HZ University of Applied Sciences in cooperation with Project Agency “Sea defences” (Zeeweringen).
    • Habitat enhancement measures such as the ones described herein will be designed not to interfere with the primary objectives of coastal defence system.
    • Habitat enhancement measures should not lead to undesired proliferation of nuisance or invasive species that related to hard substrate.


    Detailed design

    In view of the influence of the envisaged ecobasins on the functioning of the flood defence system and the local environment, calling in physical and biological expertise on the local environment was important in order to have an effective design.

    Important design parameters were the shape and the slope of the structure, the choice of materials, the size distribution and the porosity.

    The technical design makes use of asphalt as a sealant to prevent leakage. Applying molten asphalt to create a pool with sloping edges proofed a complicated issue. Materials such as limestone and lava stone were selected to provide different substrates for species to attach to. Stones were loosely stacked to provide heaps to species to shelter from predators. These stones are of a size selection that is heavy enough to withstand the forces of wave impact.

    The local climate and the local ambient ecosystem will provide the meteorological forcing (temperature, irradiation), hydrodynamic forcing (tidal range and current speeds), wave exposure and species diversity. The latter may be a limiting factor to the success of this type of project, because it needs a source from which the eco-basins can be colonised. Also note that the spatial scale of the structure and local ecosystem biodiversity will limit the choice of habitats that can be designed within a given project.

    The design could be enhanced to provide more habitat for reef builders such as mussels and oysters (including associated species, such as crabs), or for macro-algae, which in their turn provide habitat to many fish and invertebrates. The foreshore allowing, a design with dune or saltmarsh vegetation could be achieved at the supratidal level. The design could be optimized to provide ecological functions for existing habitats in the ambient ecosystem. On the other hand, the same design principles could be utilized to reduce a priori the amount of habitat available for nuisance species, for instance in certain areas where they may reduce the quality of recreational activities. Filter-feeding animals such as mussels, for instance, are known to reduce the concentration of phytoplankton in the water column.

    Project delivery

    The first pilot of the rich revetment ecobasin was delivered in 2008 on the dike section between Wemeldinge and Yerseke. The second set of ecobasins was delivered in 2010, on the dike section between Wemeldinge and Kattendijke.

    Operation and Maintenance

    Delivered project

    After construction the ecobasins have been monitored for a period of three years. Reasons for monitoring are to analyse:

    • The risks of adverse effects
    • The performance (according to expectations)
    • Increased understanding of functioning (scientific and practical understanding).


    The monitoring covered a period of four years, from 2008 until 2012. Each year the results have been reported. No strategies exist for the specific maintenance of the basins as they form part of the dike. Dike maintenance is part of standard procedures of the Waterboard.


    The pilots have been monitored for a period of three year, 2008-2010. For detailed information on monitoring methods and results, see (in Dutch) Paalvast (2011).

    In 2008 the basins were monitored in the period from July to October, this included a monthly visit to the site. During the visits the different species were counted and the basins were photographed. In October pictures were taken of algae and epifauna in the basins and in two reference situations (the traditional dike toe). The number of fishes and shrimps were estimated, but not determined by species. For the algea and animals that cover a large surface, the cover percentages on the stones and in the basins were estimated and translated to abundance. For the other animals an estimation of density was made and translated to abundance. In October 2008 the algae biomass was also determined.

    In 2008 monitoring showed that the number of taxa in all short basins had increased. Organisms included ulvea, barnacle, tunicates and sponges. The number of taxa in the long basins was lower than in the short basin, which can be explained by the fact that the long basins are located higher in the tidal range and therefore were longer exposed to drying conditions. Results in 2008:

    • Short basins: 10 species of algae, 25 species of animals
    • Long basins: 7 species, 23 animal species
    • Reference (drying hard substrate area on the same height in the intertidal zone): 4 species, 4 animal species
      These results show that basins started to have a clear added value at this location.

    In 2009 the basins were visited and photographed in May and October. The monitoring followed the same method as in 2008. In comparison to the monitoring results of 2008, the total number of species had increased:

    • Short basins: 8 species of algae, 30 species of animals
    • Long basins: 9 algae species, 26 animal species
    • Reference: 4 algae species, 4 animal species

    In 2010 this result remained stable. Between the years shifts took place in abundance between various algal species. It was noted that some basins were silting up and others were leaking and dried up during low tide. As expected these leaking and drying basins contained less species diversity.

    The following conclusions were drawn at the end of the monitoring period:

    1. Artificial basins in the intertidal zone of the dike will increase biodiversity
    2. Artificial basins at low-wave energy locations tend to silt up.
    3. Artificial basins at low-wave energy locations have a high algae biomass
    4. Macro fauna species numbers and abundancy of species increases with increasing waterdepth of the pools

    End of life

    The ecobasins will have a long life-span, under the assumption that they are properly inspected and maintained. It is possible to re-use the stones and the asphalt for a new dike toe or other projects, if need be.

    The basins may be prone to siltation, destruction by ice, leakage or vandalism. If a specific maintenance plan exists, the plan has address who is in charge of the basins functioning, who is legally responsible and who is bearing the costs of maintenance. Another concern may be that unattended visitors may get injured while visiting the basins, because this intertidal zone is mostly slippery because of algae growth. This may require a specific warning sign concerning risks of injury by the legal owner of the basins.

    Lessons Learned

    • The pools attract shrimps and juvenile fish, and as a consequence a lot of foraging birds are observed at low tide.
    • To prevent over-predation by birds of mussels, fish, shrimps and other animals present in the pools, shelter and hiding places should be provided.
    • Construction of small pools with asphalt was troublesome. Asphalt would flow to the lowest pool areas before solidification so only shallow pools could be created. The use of prefab pools could be a solution.
    • The pools will also attract people, because of the highly diverse fauna.


    Back to Top