CEDA Iberian Conference

Dredging for sustainable port development

Ecosystem services: Towards integrated marine infrastructure project assessment

27-28 October 2016, Lisbon, Portugal

Annelies Boerema, University of Antwerp, Belgium 

The ongoing need for navigation in the context of a still growing world population and global world trade as well as climate change challenges are major drivers of the dredging sector. Consequently, there is a permanent need for marine infrastructure projects due to growth and this is especially so for people living in low lying delta areas. However, nowadays, dredging companies are operating in an increasingly complex world – not only are projects getting more complicated from a technical point of view but there is also a growing environmental awareness amongst project proponents, legislators and dredging contractors. Companies are taking ownership of their responsibilities (environmental awareness in this case) by promoting the design and implementation of more sustainable solutions. However, developing and designing solutions alone is not good enough. To enable broad implementation and ensure effective realization, these solutions should be widely accepted by clients, project financers and other stakeholders. To that end, the benefits of these solutions or approaches should be taken into account in the evaluation method that is being utilized. This is where the concept of ecosystem services (ES) comes into play.

To enable the design of more sustainable dredging and marine infrastructure works and their efficient, safe implementation and realization in environmentally sensitive areas, the concept of ES has become increasingly important as a tool for integral evaluation of project effects (whether benefits or negative impacts) and achieving broad public support. The concept of ES aims at classifying, describing and assessing the value of natural resources and ecosystem services in terms of benefits for society, such as provision of food and other resources and air and water quality regulation. Though these benefits are always delivered, project stakeholders (including developers, financers, governments) do not always perceive them as a full “economic good”. An ES assessment can provide quantifiable information and data that can be included in a traditional cost-benefit analysis of projects. Thus, monetary valuation of ES can be utilized to make a full environmental cost-benefit analysis and weigh the investment cost with not only technical profits, but also environmental and socio-economic benefits. An ES assessment also allows for a better comparison between project alternatives – not just scenarios that mitigate negative effects but also the ones that positively contribute to the environment – delivering ecosystem services. Furthermore, qualitative assessment can be done for ES when monetary valuation is not straightforward possible. In this way other considerations can be added to the evaluation such as habitat and biodiversity targets.

While classic environmental impact assessments focus on the potential negative effects of a dredging project on nature, taking an ecosystem services perspective allows to look at both the negative effects as well as new opportunities that may arise as secondary benefits to society. By targeting a variety of ecosystem services from the conceptualization phase of a project and optimizing its design for additional benefits, innovation efforts shift away from ‘avoiding damage’ to ‘creating opportunities’. Taking ecosystem services into account from the designing phase of a project allows to generate added value that might otherwise be missed out on, avoid destruction that is impossible to mitigate and create support from different stakeholders.

Last update: 19 October 2016