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 Building with Nature Guideline > Projects > Habitat opportunities in harbours - Port of Rotterdam, NL

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Habitat opportunities in harbours  - Port of Rotterdam, NL

Location: Port of Rotterdam (Scheurhaven & Pistoolhaven)

Date: March 2009 - September 2010

Involved parties: Deltares, Ecoconsult, Port of Rotterdam

Technology Readiness Level: 5

Environment: Ports & Cities, Estuaries, Lakes & Rivers

Keywords: Water quality, ports, nature creation, habitat enhancement

Building with Nature designTraditional design

Floating and hanging artificial surfaces can enhance habitat diversity and filter feeder biomass, if port water quality is good enough (like in Rotterdam). Constructions made of standard nylon ropes, strategically strung between the piles of a jetty, are a cheap way to do this. The photo shows such ropes four months after installation.

Smooth steel and concrete structures, like sheet-pile walls or jetty piers, provide little grip for mussels and sea anemones. Further, compared to natural rocky habitats, artificial structures lack cracks and crevices, and profile variation.


Harbours are often seen as abiotic environments that are optimized for economic activities. While this is sometimes true, harbours also provide a habitat for many species. Simple measures can do a lot to provide additional ecological value.

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Initiation, planning and design

As part of the Rijkswaterstaat Innovation Program (WINN), Deltares sought cooperation with Port Centre Rotterdam. The project and its scope were defined by the parties collaboratively. Ideas developed by Deltares and Ecoconsult as part of the Rich Revetment study and new ideas on the hanging ‘hula’ structures were proposed for implementation in a number of pilot experiments in the Rotterdam harbour.

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Before the actual construction, the conceptual designs from the previous phase were further detailed. After the detailed design had been finalized, the polehulas and pontoonhulas were placed at the dedicated locations. 

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Monitoring during Operation and Maintenance

Given the nature of the pilot, a monitoring program was set op to monitor the ecological development on the structures. Twice a year biomass and species diversity on the structures was determined. Status of the structures was checked each month for safety purposes. These monthly maintenance check-ups were also used to measure present biomass on the strings.

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Lessons Learned

The lessons learned from this project centre around the following aspects:

  • artificial substrates are an effective method to increase biomass in harbour basins
  • The aggregate of mussels provides an additional water filter capacity which can be beneficial for the ecosystem
  • No information is available on the long-term development
  • The weight of the pontoonhulas increased with almost 300 kg in less than four months
  • The design of pontoonhulas can be optimized by making use of elements such as Mussel Seed Capture Installations
  •  Polehulas need relatively large rope diameters to be effective
  • The artificial structures can be used to dampen wave action within harbour basins

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