This Science Review comprises an overview of the objectives of the marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF), together with a synopsis of projects funded on marine aggregate research in recent years. This is followed by a summary of the current status of marine aggregate research in UK waters and an assessment of the extent to which the current work has met key Policy objectives of the ALSF. The Report contains details of all projects funded through the ALSF, together with Progress Reports (Appendix 1) as well as a summary of relevant research from non-ALSF sources (Appendix 2), projects supported by the industry - BMAPA (Appendix 3), the US Government Minerals Management Service (Appendix 4) and relevant projects funded by the European Union (Appendix 5)
Our Science Review of projects related to marine aggregate dredging up to 31st March 2005 suggests the following:
- We have a relatively good understanding of the nature and scale of impacts of marine aggregate dredging on coastal processes, benthic biological resources and seabed habitats as a result of the significant investment in R&D in recent years.
- Localized impacts on a relatively small area of seabed are regarded as an inevitable consequence of marine aggregate dredging. The key questions that have been addressed by current R&D programmes define the likely nature and scale of the "footprint" of impact on sediment composition and associated benthic biological communities. Further studies are required to validate predictions derived from current models of impacts and subsequent recovery processes.
- This work can assist in the rational management of marine aggregate resources and in the protection of environmental resources including biological communities of conservation significance and resources of archaeological importance.
- The provision of a sound science base for both regulatory purposes and for the prudent management of marine aggregate dredging in UK waters is considered to be an important achievement of marine aggregate research in recent years.
- Whether there is a "need" for additional studies to further inform the regulatory process in relation to the question of impacts on environmental resources and recovery processes needs to be addressed by Defra and the ODPM. In our view the nature and scale of impacts and recovery processes are sufficiently well understood to adequately inform the regulatory process.
- We have much less understanding of how impacts of marine aggregate dredging and subsequent recovery processes interact through the marine food web with significant economic resources such as fish. This is partly because the tropho-dynamics of marine ecosystems is poorly understood. We see an important need for further investment in well-targeted marine research to establish potential impacts at high levels in the marine food-web. This should include trophic interactions and potential impacts on habitat preferences of commercially significant species. It implies that significant further funds will be required for research on the impacts of marine aggregate dredging on ecosystem function - particularly in relation to food-webs supporting economically significant resources such as shellfish and fish.
- Most of the R&D on marine aggregate dredging has focussed on improving our understanding of the nature and scale of "impacts" of marine aggregate dredging on environmental resources of conservation and economic significance. This is expected to form the basis of future work directed towards minimising these impacts. Appropriate management of dredging activities and mitigation measures will need to be developed to assist the process of recovery of biological resources and the food-webs that depend on them. We foresee a need for a close interaction with the industry to develop, where possible, appropriate dredging methodology to reduce the impacts of marine aggregate dredging.
- There remain however, serious gaps in our understanding of the nature and distribution of resources of conservation significance in UK coastal waters. This makes it difficult to assess the "significance" of impacts of marine aggregate dredging within the relatively small area of seabed that is dredged. We foresee a need for significant further funding in marine biotope and habitat mapping so that the impacts of marine aggregate dredging established from recent research can be placed in context with the wider distribution of resources of conservation and economic significance in UK coastal waters.
- Major advances in understanding of issues related to marine aggregate dredging have been achieved in recent years as a result of investment in R&D from many sources. However the results of the R&D have not in general been make available in a readily accessible form to other stakeholders including scientists working on marine aggregate research programmes. Insufficient attention has been given to presenting this information in an objective and impartial fashion to the wide range of stakeholders who are involved in the consultation process for marine aggregate licence applications.
- In other words, it is not so much the 'knowledge-base' but Public perception that is limited decision making in relation to marine aggregate dredging and this needs to be addressed as a higher priority than can be achieved through dissemination from individual projects.