Aggregate, which is extracted from the seabed, is used to provide material for the construction industry (urbanisation, harbours, roads, windfarms, nuclear plants etc.) or as a source of material against coastal erosion. With the predicted alterations in sea level resulting from climate change, marine dredged sediments can be expected to play an increasing role in coastal protection across Europe as the century progresses.
The exploitation of marine resources must, however, be achieved in an environmentally sustainable manner and co-operate with other legitimate uses of the seabed such as marine ecology, fishing, navigation and maritime archaeology. Understanding and quantifying pressures and impacts from major human activities is necessary to underpin effective environmental impact assessments and marine planning and to provide the basis for integrated marine management.
The extraction of marine aggregates is likely to have a greater impact upon biodiversity if mining projects are carried out in under-represented areas within the geographical area and/or if they impact sensitive species or habitats, such as spawning grounds, nursery areas or biogenic reefs.
The marine aggregate industry has its longest history in the UK portion of the English Channel and there is viewed as being the greatest limiting factor for fishing, after conservation. The main issue with aggregates is that the seabed is altered thus, even once a space opens up again, it is no longer suitable for the same fishing activities to take place. This area of the English Channel is also shared by a variety of users: shipping vessels (the Dover Strait is considered the world’s busiest shipping lane), fishing vessels (trawlers, gillnetters, dredgers) as well as ferry boats which operate in a restricted region. In addition, the pressures of aggregate extraction are expected to increase during coming decades.
Areas licensed for aggregate prospection in the eastern English Channel