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Extraction of non-living resources

Introduction

1.1   This paper summarises extraction of non-living resources within the OSPAR region and measures taken to manage the environmental impacts. It briefly notes key messages from the QSR 2010 and IA 2017, and reports on progress since then.

Distribution, intensity and trends

2.1   Current extraction of non-living resources in the OSPAR area is dominated by sand and gravel. These deposits may be relict or fossil, formed when the sea level was lower than at present and parts of the modern sea bed were exposed, glaciated or crossed by major rivers; or formed under modern marine processes, such as sand banks in the southern North Sea (see e.g. Veligrakis et al 2010; Bide et al 2016). Sand and gravel are used as a source of aggregate or contract fill material for the construction industry, and as material for coastal works such as land reclamation, beach replenishment and coastal defence. The latter is particularly important in the Netherlands.

2.2   In the Netherlands, shells are extracted from the North Sea, Voordelta and Wadden Sea and used for purposes, such as drainage systems, insulation and path surfacing. The amounts extracted are not allowed to exceed natural accretion (Noordzeeloket 2020, Netherlands Ministries 2015). Maerl has been extracted in France but ICES reports that this was banned in 2013 (ICES 2018).

2.3   ICES reports that marine sediment extraction in the North Atlantic has increased substantially since the early 1970s from just a few hundred thousand m³ per year to tens of millions of m³ in recent years (ICES, 2019a). The 2010 OSPAR QSR reported that extraction of marine sand and gravel in the OSPAR area had increased by around 30% in the previous decade; its associated background paper (OSPAR 2009) showed an increase from 43 million m³ in 1995 to 57 million m³ in 2007, with a high point in that period of 63 million m³ in 2005. The total area of extraction had been relatively stable as new areas had been offset by activity stopping elsewhere. The QSR anticipated that demand to supply construction projects and coastal protection schemes would continue to increase.

2.4   The following tables show extraction of sand, gravel, and other resources in the OSPAR area in 2018 and 2019 (data are for seabed areas within the OSPAR region and are from ICES 2019a and ICES 2020,which also gives more background to the figures.

Table 1 Extraction of aggregates and other non-living resources in the OSPAR region, 2018
CountryA) Construction/ industrial aggregates (m³)B) Beach replenish-ment (m³)C) Construction fill/ land reclamation (m³)D) Non-aggregate (m³)E) Total Extracted (m3)F) Aggregate exported (m³)
Belgium2 801 000988 000003 795 0001 075 000
Denmark1 894 8873 731 213116 47605 742 576317 826
France3476303ND (1)ND200 400 (2)3 676 7030
Germany20 5601 148 682001 169 2420
Greenland63 500 (3)00063 5000
FaroesNDNDNDND23 000ND
Iceland316 777 (4)00105 043421 8200
Ireland000000
Netherlands012 374 4018 947 131135 31124 583 9213 262 389
NorwayNDNDNDNDNDND
Portugal137 951000137 9510
Spain03 000003 0000
Sweden000000
United Kingdom8 080 127493 355779 57209 353 0542 375 805

 

 

 

A. Construction/industrial aggregates - marine sand and/or gravel used as a raw material for the construction industry for building purposes, primarily for use in the manufacture of concrete but also for more general construction products.

 B. Beach replenishment/coastal protection – marine sand and/or gravel used to support large-scale soft engineering projects to prevent coastal erosion and to protect coastal communities and infrastructure.

C. Construction fill/land reclamation – marine sediment used to support large scale civil engineering projects, where large volumes of bulk material are required to fill void spaces prior to construction commencing or to create new land surfaces.

D. Non-aggregates – comprising rock, shell or maerl.

E. Total Extracted – total marine sediment extracted by Member Countries.

F. Aggregates Exported - the proportion of the total extracted which has been exported i.e. landed out-side of the country where it was extracted. This value is not included in the total.

(1)   No information is available for extraction quantities used for beach nourishment in France although sand extraction for beach replenishment is likely to have occurred.

(2)   Licensed data (maximum permitted) because extracted data is subject to statistical confidentiality confidentiality.

(3)   Average amount extracted every year from 2013.

(4)   Fraction of total extraction attributed to “construction aggregate” and that to “construction fill/reclamation” has been estimated.

Table 2 Extraction of aggregates and other non-living resources in the OSPAR region, 2019
CountryA) Construction/ industrial aggregates (m³)B) Beach replenish-ment (m³)C) Construction fill/ land reclamation (m³)D) Non-aggregate (m³)E) Total Extracted (m3)F) Aggregate exported (m³)
Belgium2 859 000537 000003 490 0001 075 000
Denmark1 895 3422 541 6322 548 35406 985 328348 844
France3 511 255No dataNo data200 8003 712 055N/A
Iceland00166 800127 573294 3730
Netherlands012 156 4898 268 147114 70020 539 3361 919 667
Norway000Few thousand tons (shell)00
Portugal inc. Azores38 8591 000 000001 038 859
Spain-78 421--0-
United Kingdom7 915 2162 583 6580010 498 8742 700 791

 

 

 

A. Construction/industrial aggregates - marine sand and/or gravel used as a raw material for the construction industry for building purposes, primarily for use in the manufacture of concrete but also for more general construction products.

B. Beach replenishment/coastal protection – marine sand and/or gravel used to support large-scale soft engineering projects to prevent coastal erosion and to protect coastal communities and infrastructure.

C. Construction fill/land reclamation – marine sediment used to support large scale civil engineering projects, where large volumes of bulk material are required to fill void spaces prior to construction commencing or to create new land surfaces.

D. Non-aggregates – comprising rock, shell or maerl.

E. Total Extracted – total marine sediment extracted by Member Countries.

F. Aggregates Exported - the proportion of the total extracted which has been exported i.e. landed out-side of the country where it was extracted. This value is not included in the total.

2.5   The amounts extracted can vary substantially between years. In the EU and EFTA countries as a whole, a total of 3 billion tonnes of all terrestrial and marine aggregates was extracted in 2018, still lower than annual levels of over 3.6 billion tonnes in 2006-2008 before the 2008 financial downturn, despite an upward trend since 2013 (UEPG 2020). For marine aggregates, which are less than 2% of total EU/EFTA aggregates production, volumes may be influenced by general demand, as well as country-specific factors. For example:

  1. in the Netherlands, over 120 million m3 of sand were extracted in each of 2009 and 2010 to supply major infrastructure, but below 16 million m3 in 2016 (ICES 2019a);
  2. in France, annual amounts varied from 3.7–2.7 million m3 between 2010 and 2019, with the lowest values in the middle of the decade (ICES 2019a);
  3. in the United Kingdom, marine aggregates meet around 20% of the sand and gravel demand for England and Wales. The tonnage extracted rose between 2010 and 2017 but was still below the levels of 1998-2008; trends varied considerably between regions (The Crown Estate 2018, 2019);
  4.  in Denmark, where legislative changes in 2010 and 2015 were introduced to the framework for extraction of offshore materials, extraction rose between 2010 and 2018 (Miljøstyrelsen 2020).

2.6   The amounts of marine sediments (in million m3) extracted in the ICES area (OSPAR and HELCOM) for the years 2008-2019 are given below[1]:

200820092010201120122013201420152016201720182019
64,013174,333161,597103,99394,25380,23792,45071,44851,25056,69872,25361,462

 

2.7   ICES 2020 also reports the area licensed for extraction, although data are incomplete. Figures available (in km2) are: Belgium 203, Denmark 617; France 193; Iceland 20; Netherlands 548; United Kingdom 1079. The area actually used for extraction in the year, however, was smaller – ICES reports 59 km2 in Belgium, 151 km2 in France, 8 km2 in Iceland, 95km2 in the Netherlands and 105km2 in the United Kingdom.

2.8   Maps of extraction sites and active extraction areas are also available from the EMODnet Human Activities Portal (EMODnet 2020).

2.9   ICES also provides information on the intensity of the activity (dredging time per unit area of extraction – ICES use 50 x 50m grid cells). The highest average time (25 minutes per cell) was in the UK, followed by Denmark, whereas the average time in the Netherlands (7 minutes) and Belgium (less than 5 minutes) was much lower. This reflects differences between the national activities in terms of:

  1. national policy. For example, UK policy seeks to minimise the area dredged, to limit impacts on the environment and to reduce impacts on other marine users; areas are worked to economic exhaustion to allow recovery of previously worked areas. In the Netherlands, policy until 2004 was to extract not more than 2 metres below the sea bed, but since then extraction tends to be deeper - typically 6-8 metres below the sea bed, but extraction for Maasvlakte 2, a major expansion of facilities at the port of Rotterdam, was at a depth of 20 metres[2];
  2. geological resources – relict sand and gravel sources, as in the UK and Denmark are more spatially limited than more widely distributed sand resources, such as those in Belgian and Netherlands waters;
  3. dredging practices, for example where vessels modify the ratio of sand and gravel in accordance with the end-use of the product through on board screening.

2.10   The time intensity is not necessarily correlated with the impacts of extraction, which is influenced by indirect effects such as turbidity, sediment plumes and changes in current, as well as the factors affecting recovery, such as the nature of the local environment.

Economic status

3.1   The European Commission’s Blue Economy report 2020 (European Commission 2020) gives the following figures for the economic value of marine aggregates for the major producers in 2018 (including non-OSPAR regions):

Country

Persons employed (total)

Turnover
(Million Euro)

Value added at factor cost (Million Euro)

Belgium

52

24.9

7.4

Denmark

84

34.5

12.3

Germany

301

57.8

22.0

France

123

35.9

10.1

Netherlands

170

119.8

33.7

 

3.2   For the UK, a report for the UK Seabed User and Developer Group reported figures of c. 490 jobs, turnover of £266m and direct GVA of £137m (ABPMer and ICF 2019)

3.3   The economic value of the infrastructure and construction activities supported by these extractions will be many times greater. For example, about 180 million m3 of sand was used to support the first phase of Maasvlakte 2[3] were used in the redevelopment of the Dover Western Docks (The Crown Estate 2019). For construction more generally, marine aggregates provide around one third of the aggregates for £50bn worth of construction activity in London and the south-east of England[4].

Future trends

Sand and gravel

4.1   Future trends in the extraction of aggregates will be influenced by a variety of factors. These will include the rate of economic growth and its effect on construction demand; the availability of other sources of aggregates, including recycled material as well as land based sources; available reserves of marine aggregates; and the need for coastal defence works, including in response to sea level rise driven by climate change.

4.2   Analysis from the European Aggregates Association has shown a broadly linear relationship between GDP per capita and aggregate production (UEPG 2020). As of mid-2020, European countries were reporting different degrees of decline in aggregate production due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, with future trends dependent on the scale and timing of economic recovery.

4.3   The relationship between overall economic growth, construction growth and the use of marine aggregates is nevertheless not straightforward. For example, an analysis of future UK aggregates use from 2016-2030 explored scenarios affected by overall economic growth and demand; material intensity of construction; availability of recycled aggregates; use of crushed rock in aggregates; wharf and dredger capacity; ability to secure permissions for land-based sources; and availability of imports. Under those scenarios, the demand for marine sand and gravels from UK waters (12 million tonnes in 2015) ranged from as low as 9 million tonnes in 2030 to as much as 34 million tonnes. The scenarios were not predictions, and some assumptions may be more likely than others. The study did conclude that the contribution of land-won sand & gravel sources is likely to continue to decline in the UK, being replaced by a combination of marine sand & gravel and crushed rock substitution (Mineral Products Association 2017).

4.4   Strategic analysis of sand and gravel reserves, and their future use, have been undertaken by several OSPAR countries. In the Netherlands, where sand extraction is considered an activity of national interest, sand is extracted for use in coastal reinforcement, to combat flood risks (e.g. dyke improvement) as well as occasional large-scale extraction for major projects and for use of marine sand on land for infrastructure and construction. The sea-level rise anticipated due to climate change will have consequences for the demand for replenishment sand and fill sand, and it is possible that the demand for sand for coastal maintenance could grow to up to 85 million m3 per year (Noordzeeloket 2020), although the most recent expectation is 10-37 million m3 per year in the period after 2035, depending on a sea level rise of 2-8 mm per year[5].

4.5   A sand extraction strategy has been prepared: the Netherlands is considered to have enough stocks in the designated sand extraction area for the 21st century, although the Netherlands North Sea Plan 2016-21 says that resources are under pressure in some specific areas. The zone between the continuous NAP -20m isobath and the 12-mile boundary is regarded as a reserve area for sand extraction (Noordzeeloket 2020; Netherlands Ministries 2015).

4.6   In France, studies were carried out by IFREMER on the scale of marine aggregate resources in the eastern English Channel and the Loire-Gironde (Ifremer 2006) and in Brittany and Sud-Gascogne (Ifremer 2012). The resources amounted to hundreds of billions of m3 although the potential for extraction varied. It may be that in future years more use of marine aggregates will be needed for construction or coastal works (CGEDD/CGE 2017).

4.7   In the UK, The Crown Estate reports that there are around 347 million tonnes of current permitted primary reserves which can be extracted for economic purposes, representing around 22 years of average annual offtake; substantial future reserves are present subject to future licencing (The Crown Estate 2019; Bellamy & Russell 2018).

4.8   In Denmark, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland maps the seabed so as to identify sand and gravel which could be extracted, and maintains a national marine raw material database (further information in Ditlefsen et al 2015 and GEUS 2020).

4.9   The TILES project (Transnational and Integrated Long-term Marine Exploitation Strategies) has developed a knowledge base for Belgian waters and the southern Netherlands part of the North Sea. TILES concluded thatthe Belgian medium to coarse sands will be exhausted within 80-100 years, if extraction remains limited to the present-day concession zones, so that consideration of alternatives is required (Van Lancker et al 2019).

4.10   Although uncertain, it is possible that extraction of sand and gravel may be developed in OSPAR countries other than the current producers. The Geological Survey of Norway has stated that in future there may be more exploitation of sand and gravel from the seabed of the fjords, along the coast or the continental shelf, but mapping of the resources, and evaluation of whether they can be exploited sustainability, is still needed (NGU 2019). The Irish Sea IMAGIN project concluded that sustainable extraction of marine aggregates in Ireland and Wales was achievable in the short to medium term (Sutton et al 2008), but as of 2018, ICES reports no extraction of marine aggregates by Ireland.

Other minerals, including deep sea mining

4.11   The EU’s blue economy report 2020 described the role that marine minerals might play in the future supply of raw materials (European Commission 2020). It listed five classes of mineral deposits associated with different water depths and geological conditions:

  1. marine placers, typically found in shallow waters and including a variety of minerals;
  2. phosphorites, forming at depths between 95-1950 metres, containing phosphate and with potential for critical rare earth elements;
  3. seafloor massive sulphides, typically found from 400-3900 metres, containing copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold, as well as the potential for high-tech metals;
  4. cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, forming from 800-7000 metres, containing manganese and with potential for other metals;
  5. polymetallic nodules at depths between 4000-6000 metres, again containing manganese and other metals.

4.12   A map of resources in the OSPAR region, is shown below (source: OSPAR 2021)


Figure 1 Known and predicted distribution of seafloor mineral resources in the OSPAR marine area

Figure 1 Known and predicted distribution of seafloor mineral resources in the OSPAR marine area

Map from [Cefas reference] was adapted from Royal Society[6]. See also MINDeSEA[7], EMODnet[8].

4.13   The European MINDeSEA project on seabed mineral deposits in European seas is characterising the occurrence of the minerals and their exploitation status (MINDeSEA 2020). However, the Blue Economy report notes that further work would be needed to estimate reserves. There has also been work to characterise deposits in Norwegian waters (Miljødirektoratet 2016)

4.14   The Blue Economy report states that further research and knowledge on the deep sea environment and its resilience are required in order to move from exploration to exploitation. The EU is also supporting the International Seabed Authority’s development of a regional environmental management plan for areas beyond national jurisdiction in the North Atlantic, by funding a project on areas of particular environmental interest in the Atlantic (European Commission, 2020). ISA is continuing to develop the set of rules, regulations and procedures to regulate prospecting, exploration and exploitation of marine minerals in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ISA 2020). ICES notes that there is still much uncertainty about the nature of extraction activities in the north-east Atlantic in terms of geography, water depth, potential pressures and sensitivity of habitats, although there will be parallels with experience from the management of sand and gravel extraction (ICES 2019a). ICES also referred to exploration of ilmenite sands in Greenland for titanium recovery; further details, including on offshore resources, are outlined at Greenland Minerals Authority 2019.

4.15   A technical report for OSPAR has highlighted the increasing demand for resources such as copper, cobalt, nickel, lithium, silver, rare earth elements and critical metals), with a doubling of global demand anticipated by 2050-2060 (OSPAR 2021). The transition to renewable energy, associated with increased energy storage requirements, is a key factor in driving up demand. Different types of resource require different mining techniques: for example, seafloor massive sulphide mining has a relatively small spatial footprint on the seabed (0.5-1.0 km2 for the total life of a mining project, but involves a relatively deep extraction (up to 10m depth). Mining of nodules and crusts has a much larger spatial footprint (typically 150-200 km2 per year for nodules) while requiring much shallower excavation (10-30 cm).

QSR 2010 and IA 2017

5.1   QSR 2010 and its associated background paper (OSPAR 2009) highlighted increases since the mid-1990s in marine sand and gravel extraction, as well as the potential of deep sea mining. It highlighted the role of environmental impact assessments in avoiding damage to priority habitats, such as maerl beds or Sabellaria spinulosa reefs. It concluded that the use of ICES guidelines on managing extraction had been successful in some areas, such as the English Channel, but that variable quality of assessments made it hard to assess whether regulation had improved the protection of benthic ecosystems. It recommended that continued efforts would be needed to reduce negative impacts, including stringent implementation of ICES guidelines, harmonised reporting, and work to address gaps in knowledge of issues such as impacts on fish and small benthic fauna and long term recovery of the seabed.

Impacts and measures

6.1   Reports from ICES (Sutton & Boyd 2009, ICES 2016, ICES 2019a) provide an overview of the impacts of sand and gravel extraction. Effects can include loss of the materials themselves, impacts on benthic fauna (few of which will survive the extraction process), sand coverage on seabeds in the vicinity, suspended matter in the water, and noise. The impacts can potentially be wide-ranging (see, for example, description in ICES 2019a of turbidity effects modelled by EIAs for extraction of materials for the Maasvlakte 2 development). Changes in the topography (e.g. depressions, furrows) can remain for just a few months in highly mobile sand areas to several years or decades in areas of more stable sediments. Impacts will be influenced by factors such as the spatial extent, duration, frequency or intensity, as well as habitat type. However, extraction can be managed in ways that minimise impacts and allow recovery of the benthic fauna within an acceptable period. Restoration of species diversity and biomass in gravel habitats can take 10 years or more to complete, whereas in dynamic sandy habitats recovery is faster.

6.2   ICES has produced Guidelines for the management of marine sediment extraction, which were adopted by OSPAR in its agreement 2003/15 on sand and gravel extraction. The agreement also encouraged an ecosystem-based approach to management of human activities, general plans for extraction of sediments subject to strategic environmental assessment of those plans; and controls on the extraction of sediments from any ecologically-sensitive site. ICES 2016 reviewed the effects of aggregate extraction from 2005-2011. It concluded that the ICES Guidelines are used in ICES countries through guidance or legislation, and that the Guidelines remained fit for purpose.

6.3   ICES WGEXT has continued to consider the environmental effects of aggregate extraction. ICES 2019a reviewed research on aggregates extraction in the context of the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive’s objective of good environmental status. Conclusions included that:

  1. extraction could potentially be a serious threat to biodiversity in gravelly areas either of small size or under-represented in the area. However, the ICES guidelines provide for the adoption of appropriate extraction site locations, preventing harm to habitats of prime importance;
  2. extraction could potentially be a serious threat to fish species, for example through loss of spawning areas, but that the ICES guidelines also provide for adoption of appropriate extraction site locations, with the aim to prevent any harmful effect on habitats of prime importance;
  3. extraction will affect sea bed integrity; extraction should preferably take place in naturally unstable bottoms (e.g. coarse sand dunes), where benthic communities are poor. However, that would not allow for gravel extraction. The ICES expert group considered that it should be accepted that some change will occur and that it would be inappropriate to expect no environmental change;
  4. in general, the dimensions of dredged pits would have only limited influence on the macroscale current pattern;
  5. while extraction generates noise, this is merely contributing to the general noise levels from shipping and introduces no negative impacts from the extraction itself;
  6. mitigation could include measures such as seasonal closures for specific areas; rotation of dredging intensity to allow recolonization and recovery; and exploratory restoration techniques.

6.4   The ICES report also noted that the ICES guidelines will be updated in the next three years.

6.5   ICES has also considered aggregate extraction as part of work on the assessment and monitoring of human activities causing physical disturbance and loss to seabed habitats (ICES 2019b and ICES 2019c). Key messages included:

  1. marine sediment extraction is defined as a pressure on the seabed and not as a loss of seabed, because of the recovery after cessation of the extraction (ICES, 2019c);
  2. assessments of impacts should capture the physical and ecological recovery after cessation of the extraction. It should be noted that ecological recovery of biota can occur without a full physical recovery of the geomorphology of the seabed (ICES, 2019b);
  3. it should not be overlooked that an activity may have a disproportionate effect on a specific biological habitat (ICES, 2019b).

6.6   ICES 2019a also reviewed the place of aggregates extraction within development of methods for cumulative assessment of the impacts of human activities. It noted the complexities of issues such as assessment of trends over time and space, and whether habitat changes as a result of extraction can be considered positive in some circumstances (e.g. if fish populations with a high economic value are favoured). It recommended further work on how to incorporate issues such as the valuation of change over time, within overall work on cumulative assessment in the marine environment. However, it suggested that given current work on tools and methodologies to address the cumulative impacts of human activities, it was not relevant to develop a separate cumulative impacts tool focused on marine mineral extraction.

6.7   For deep sea mining, potential environmental impacts include loss of substrate; changes to seabed integrity; operational suspended sediment and chemical plumes; re-sedimentation from operational plume; discharge plume; increase in light; increase in noise levels and potential vibration; and release of sediment-bound or subsurface porewater toxic metals into the water column. Activities could also have impacts on other economic sectors, such as fisheries or the exploitation of biota for marine genetic resources. Understanding of the extent and nature of impacts is at present uncertain, and mitigation and restorative techniques are still in development (OSPAR 2021).

7. Conclusions

Footnotes


[1]Source: Ad Stolk (Ministry of Transport Public Works and Water Management NL) – pers. comm. There may be a slight underestimate in some years as not all country data was made available.

[2]Source: Ad Stolk (Ministry of Transport Public Works and Water Management NL) pers.comm. available.

[3]Source: Ad Stolk (NL) pers.comm

[4]Source: British Marine Aggregate Producers Association, pers.comm

[5] Source: Ad Stolk (Ministry of Transport Public Works and Water Management NL) – pers.comm.

[6] Source: https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/future-ocean-resources/ [viewed 16/07/2018]

[7] Source: http://geoera.eu/projects/mindesea2/ [viewed 15/10/2019]

[8] Source: https://www.emodnet-geology.eu/map-viewer/?p=mineral_occurences [viewed 15/10/2019]

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