Artificial reefs in the North Sea show good prospects for biodiversity | Flanders Marine Institute

Flanders Marine Institute

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Artificial reefs in the North Sea show good prospects for biodiversity

Less than one year after installation, artificial reefs in the Belgian part of the North Sea already harbour a nice biodiversity. Reef balls were sank, in the summer of 2013, nearby the offshore wind farms in order to actively increase the ecological value of the area. It was initiated by the Belgian Minister for the North Sea, Johan Vande Lanotte, as part of the 'Action Plan Seal’ (Actieplan Zeehond). The scientific follow-up takes place within the framework of the project 'North Sea observatory' and is carried out by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and partners. 'The first images of the colonisation of the artificial reefs seem very promising' states Minister Vande Lanotte. 'This experimental phase shows the biodiversity increasing potential of the artificial reefs'.

Within the action plan (Actieplan Zeehond) the Minister for the North Sea, Johan Vande Lanotte, aims at a more offensive policy with regard to the biodiversity in the Belgian part of the North Sea. As part of this strategy two artificial reefs, each existing out of 33 reef balls, were sank in August 2013 nearby the offshore wind parks of the companies Belwind and C-power. The aim is to attract marine life and to follow up the colonisation process. Within the framework of the project 'North Sea Observatory', the Flanders Marine Institute will conduct semi-automatic measurements. This is done in close cooperation with Ghent University, the Research Institute for Nature and Forest, the Directorate Natural Environment (RBINS) and the wind farm operators. The project is financed by the Belgian National Lottery. A measurement buoy will be installed nearby the artificial reefs at the Thorntonbank. Temperature, salinity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, currents and chlorophyll concentrations of the seawater will be measured continuously. The movements of tagged fish and lobsters will be followed as part of a larger acoustic receiver network. The presence of dolphins will be registered by means of receivers. Underwater cameras will allow to make images of the  colonisation process.

In March 2014 VLIZ and Ghent University divers explored the artificial reefs on the Thornton bank for the first time. Eight months after installation many organisms already found their way to the concrete reef structures. Among them several crab species, sea anemones, starfish, fish and even a lobster. These first sightings are indicative for the harbour function of the reefs for both mobile and sessile organisms. It also holds prospects for the biodiversity increasing function of other infrastructures at sea, such as artificial islands, coastal defence structures and other hard substrates.

The multi-purpose use of infrastructures at sea is high on the European agenda. Within the European research project MERMAID, the Flanders Marine Institute cooperates with about 30 European research institutes and industrial partners to develop several conceptual case studies of multi-purpose platforms, including facilities for energy extraction, aquaculture and transport related platforms. The multiple use of infrastructures at sea offers the benefit of an optimal use of limited areas, decreasing environmental impacts and diminishing total costs. The conservation of biodiversity - and if possible its increase - needs to be aimed at within the framework of a sustainable use of the sea.

This vision is endorsed by Minister of the North Sea, Johan Vande Lanotte: 'We are the first to install artificial reefs in the North Sea. Until now, the overall policy was to prohibit activities at sea in order to preserve nature. Active interventions, as often used on land, were until now never deployed at sea. With the action plan ‘Seal’ we switch from a defensive towards an offensive environmental marine strategy for the Belgian part of North Sea. This first try-out seems promising. With the recently published 'Marine Spatial Plan for the Belgian part of the North Sea' Belgium succeeds to put in place both existing and new activities at sea and to strive for a good environmental status. These artificial reefs need further scientific follow-up, but the first images confirm my conviction that the space at sea can be used in multiple ways.‘


Press contact

Els Bruggeman (woordvoerster minister Vande Lanotte) – 0479/81 34 56
Sarah Vandecruys (woordvoerster minister Vande Lanotte) – 0486/89 50 46
Jan Seys (VLIZ) – 0478/37 64 13 –


  Picture gallery 'artificial reefs'

  Movie gallery MERMAID-project

     VLIZ webpage 'Artificial reefs'