The sand extractors who will soon receive the ‘operational recommendations’

Petra Damsma

“Sand extraction is a given, but if we do it right, it can also contribute to ecology.” That is the positive message from Erik van Eekelen and Daan Rijks. This article reflects the conversation I had with Erik, an environmental engineering specialist at the international marine contractor Van Oord, and Daan, a tender manager at the dredging company Boskalis. The companies are co-financiers of the research program OR ELSE.


How It Began

The men were both involved in the experiments and the associated research on the sand pits of the Tweede Maasvlakte (the work can be seen in the photo). “It has been demonstrated that there is potential to promote the ecological development of the sand pits, and that deeper extraction has potential ecological benefits over superficial excavation. Those experiments were revolutionary for the Competent Authority and the marine construction sector at the time, but they were carried out. And we learned a lot from them.”

Times Change

“Since we started working on ecology, a lot has changed in the thinking within the broader marine construction community. Nature used to be considered differently, and the question to ecological advisors was usually to determine measures that complied with the prevailing regulations. That is now different. Everyone now wants to make a difference with concepts such as Building with Nature / Nature-Based Solutions.”

The Future

“After the completion of the Tweede Maasvlakte, no such large quantities of sand have been extracted in the Dutch North Sea. Now, more and more parties are explicitly looking to the (distant) future. It is becoming clear that sand extraction in the future will involve substantially larger volumes. It is time to bring together, deepen, and supplement the results from then and additional knowledge from the intervening years. That is what OR ELSE does. The timing of the research is perfect,” says Daan. Erik: “With the results, ecological conditions for future large-scale sand extraction can be established. These conditions are important for Dutch policy and regulations, but also for the standards that companies apply internationally.” Erik and Daan expect knowledge development from OR ELSE for the team, but also for all those involved in sand extraction in the North Sea. “At least as important as gaining new knowledge is broadening the community and sharing the knowledge with that broad North Sea community. We have been involved in the subject for a long time and are well informed,” says Daan, “But that does not apply to all those involved in the North Sea. It would be great if we could see sand extraction as an opportunity. OR ELSE helps to recognize and seize those opportunities.”