We’re Listening – A new perspective emerging in marine dredging

To borrow the catchphrase of Dr Frasier Crane “I’m listening” I wanted to share the experience Stephen Eades and I had on 20th June in London that brought this to mind.

For years Marinet attended the East Channel Dredging Association (ECA) meetings where we constantly raised the issue about discharged dredging waters from the dredging vessels and their potentially damaging plume effects of mud and sediment on marine habitats. Constantly we were fobbed off with ECA saying that this was not an issue.

So you can imagine our surprise and pleasure when attending the book launch of Dredging for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Institution of Civil Engineers HQ, 1 St George Street in London we were presented with eight chapters engaging directly with lots of the environmental and design issues we have brought to the attention of Mark Russell BMAPA (British Marine Aggregate Producers Association) years ago.

This book is a collaboration between CEDA (Central Dredging Association) and IADC (International Association of Dredging Contractors) and is a guide to how to deliver sustainable dredging projects.

It is as you can imagine, an economic-driven document. But central to the guidance is that best practice is learnt through past lessons drawn from projects which presented learning points.

Stakeholder involvement is key to understanding what is a successful outcome, along with the question: have additional benefits been gained beyond what was first anticipated? By accepting this premise and paying closer attention to it at the planning stage and during delivery of the project saves time and finance in the long run.

Also, a key focus in the design of dredging projects should be how the project brings “added value” to natural, economic and social systems.  The book explains that added value in economic and social terms means making clear how the economy becomes richer as a result of the project and, in social terms, how the local community and wider society derives benefits which were not enjoyed before.

How dredging brings added value to natural systems when dredging is essentially mining and removing material and natural habitat is a key question Marinet sought to explore further at the CEDA book launch. 

CEDA acknowledges that environmental and ecological damage is caused in the short-term but if the project is designed properly it can still leave in the dredging area sufficient features of the original habitat to enable marine life to re-colonise and once again prosper. Where dredging is removing spoil, at times contaminated spoil, from estuaries to maintain shipping access to ports the dredged spoil can be used to rebuild coastal areas, such as salt marshes which are currently being eroded and disappearing.

Marinet recognises this opportunity to build added value for natural systems and to limit dredging to a scale that allows natural systems to recover, but the key is the actual evidence — documented scientific evidence assembled at end of licence — which demonstrates this and, most importantly, is published and placed in the public domain to inform debate and serve as an example for the future.

CEDA agrees that greater emphasis on evidence-based reporting of the outcome of dredging projects is clearly desirable and probably not yet adequate and, in response to a suggestion by Marinet that EIA Regulations need to be stronger in this regard, said there is probably room for legislative improvement too.

Both of I and Stephen felt that, although not fully in the brief, the direction of the industry and CEDA is on track. We feel that this book will provide clear help in the evaluation of future dredging applications and with it we can hold the applicant to greater account.

The greatest challenge the industry now has to face is, in common with the UK health service (NHS), the need to get all involved in the evaluation of projects so that blame is not the main issue but constructive learning is.

David Levy


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One Response to “We’re Listening – A new perspective emerging in marine dredging”

Stuart Lowe
Comment posted on 10th October 2019

Dear David,

I was very interested to read your article, in particular, the statement that despite your repeated attempts to raise with the ECA the issue of “potentially damaging plume effects of mud and sediment on marine habitats” you were “fobbed off”. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight in this regard.

I was at every one of the ECA meetings you attended, as I was, and still am the Regional Development Manager for the ECA. Since 2003, I have worked to improve the knowledge of the environmental impacts of dredging in the East Channel Region and other dredging regions around England and Wales.

The main part of the work in the East Channel Region involved development and delivery of one of the largest and most detailed monitoring studies of aggregate dredging ever undertaken. Amongst many other things, the work, which drew together expertise and advice from a wide array of consultants, technical specialists and regulatory advisors, gathered data on the nature of plumes and their effects on benthic habitats and faunalfauna The animals characteristic of a region, period, or special environment communities – work which to this day still informs aggregate dredging monitoring studies around the UK.

The results of the monitoring provided scientifically robust and verifiable conclusions which showed that the effects of plumes generated by dredging were less than predicted in EIA studies and of a scale, magnitude and longevity that were considered environmentally acceptable. In addition, the monitoring programme has built a wealth of baseline and dredge monitoring data that can be used to inform management decisions into the future – both during dredging and once dredging has ceased. No doubt you remember some of this from the presentations I gave at 10 stakeholder engagement meetings and numerous correspondence sent to Marinet over the years.

Hopefully, my comments will not simply be “fobbed off” as irrelevant, unsubstantiated propaganda but if you do find my words difficult to accept I would urge you to visit the ECA website and read again the vast body of evidence generated by the regional monitoring programme.

Finally, as has always been the case, if you have any specific questions or queries, or if you have any evidence that you would like to be considered in respect of the nature, scale and severity of impacts arising from aggregate dredging, I would be happy to hear from you.

Kind regards,

Stuart Lowe
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