Introducing ecosystems services for port development



René Kolman, Secretary General, International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC), The Hague, the Netherlands


Port authorities, maritime construction groups and dredgers are joining economists and environmentalists to find a way to protect ecosystems whilst achieving port expansion. In December 2012 the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management issued a report identifying human activities that put pressure on the marine environment. Amongst those listed were: waterborne transport and port activities, tourism in coastal areas and the maritime industry including dredging, and fisheries. Other reports concur: a decrease in marine biodiversity can be caused by deterioration resulting from increased sedimentation from dredging. For instance, surveys indicate that urban development, such as the construction of piers, harbours, maritime infrastructure and dredging operations in the coastal environment of both the Baltic Sea and the North Sea can have a negative impact on the maintenance of habitats. Everyone seems to agree that dredging is an activity that puts pressure on the ecosystem but how severely, how often and how long lasting? And what about the social and economic importance of maritime infrastructure and port development? No one can deny that dredging makes an essential contribution to society’s wellbeing. Think of the impact of coastal protection projects like dikes and beach replenishment. For example, less flooding means less economic and physical harm to people living near the coast. It means improved standards of living by creating collateral jobs. It helps develop tourism and its related businesses. And consider all the services a port delivers: waterborne transportation is less expensive and cleaner than overland shipment of goods by rail or truck. Is dredging an activity that some would say: can’t live with it, can’t live without it?

Dredging and Ecosystem Services

Clearly, the environment versus economics debate is not new. The European Union, the US, Australia and other countries have implemented extensive legislation to meet the challenges of combining economic development with the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. And as an industry, the major international dredging companies have met these challenges with heavy longterm investments in green technologies and designs for executing projects in a sustainable fashion. From the EcoShape Institute’s ‘Building with Nature’ programme to PIANC’s ‘Working with Nature’ to the USACE ‘Engineering with Nature’, technological innovations in monitoring and equipment have supported and encouraged sustainable methods for dredging and port development. But in the course of the last few years a new tool has been acquired: ecosystems services. The concept of ecosystem services (ES) offers an opportunity to advance dredging projects in a cost efficient and ecologically sound way by assigning a monetary value to both the project and to the potential impacts. ES allows policymakers and stakeholders to ‘compare apples with apples’ in estimating the value of a potential project versus that of the ecosystems at the project site.

The Roots of Ecosystem Services

After a four-year study involving …

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