BEWREMABI - Belgian shipwrecks: hotspots for Marine Biodiversity
Belgian shipwrecks: hotspots for Marine Biodiversity
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The main objectives are:
Pictures Alain Norro
  • Knowledge of the biodiversity and biomass of wrecks in Belgian marine waters
  • Influence of abiotic factors on the biodiversity of wrecks in Belgian marine waters
  • Comparison of biodiversity between wrecks, and between wrecks and surrounding areas
  • Comparison of biodiversity and species assemblages between wrecks in Belgian marine waters, and natural hard substrate in northern France and eastern England
  • Importance of wrecks for the Belgian Continental Shelf biodiversity
  • New expertise in the sustainable use of the Belgian Continental Shelf biodiversity
  • Reference collections on Belgian Continental Shelf biodiversity
  • Database and interactive web site on Belgian Continental Shelf biodiversity
  • Develop standard protocols for the study and monitoring of fauna of hard substrates
  • Compile information that will be used to produce a brochure for the general public, explaining the importance of marine biodiversity
  • Complete a catalogue of photographic documents that will be used with gathered information to produce a book, aimed at the interested layman, with the most important species of the wreck fauna

General summary

The substrate of the Belgian part of the North Sea consists, for the vast majority, of soft bottoms. Exceptions are man-made structures and shipwrecks, which form islands of hard substrate in a 'sea' of soft, sandy sediments. The fauna of these soft bottoms is relatively well studied, mainly using sampling devices operated from the sea surface, such as trawls, box cores and Van Veen grabs (remote sampling). These techniques are inappropriate to sample hard substrates, such as the ones provided by wrecks. As a consequence, our knowledge of the fauna of the wrecks in Belgian waters, species assemblages or ecological communities, is virtually non-existent.

Shipwrecks provide increased habitat complexity, and hence attract and harbour many more species than the relatively homogenous soft substrates in their vicinity. Hard substrates offer an opportunity for sessile epifauna to settle and a refugium from predators for mobile epifauna and nekton. Several wrecks are candidates for the designation of Marine Protected Areas in Belgium. They can be used as a model for other hard substrates, like the foundations of windmills that will be built in the Belgian part of the North Sea in the near future. Wrecks form an impediment to fishing, and provide a model for non-fishing areas. One of the objectives of this study is to compare the soft-bottom fauna of the open areas with the less-intensely trawled bottoms adjacent to the wrecks.

Five wrecks located in Belgian waters will be sampled for biotic and abiotic data at different periods of the year. The meiofauna, macrofauna and epifauna of the wrecks will be studied by direct observations, photographs and sampling by divers. Macrofauna in the soft substrates around the wreck will be sampled in situ by S.C.U. B.A. using suction dredger and cores. Slow moving sessile fauna will be sampled by scraping selected quadrats. Small swimming and/or nocturnal fauna will be caught by means of baited traps. Large swimming epifauna will be sampled visually in situ.

Density, biomass, and species composition of the benthic communities of the different wrecks will be described, and biodiversity will be estimated. Within each wreck, studies will be conducted in order to compare different factors affecting biodiversity: period of the year (i.e. seasonal effect), orientation of the sampled station (i.e. horizontal and vertical surfaces), depths of the station and other abiotic factors around the wrecks such as water temperature, conductivity, irradiance, currents, turbidity. Historical data sets and mathematical models will also be used. By means of multivariate statistical techniques, the ecological communities of the wrecks will be compared to each other and to those of the surrounding sediments. The species assemblages will also be compared with those of natural and artificial hard substrates in Belgium, northern France and eastern England (both intertidal and subtidal structures: literature survey and input from end-user committee).

According to OSTC guidelines, results from the project will be disseminated through several channels, and in different formats as appropriate for the different user communities. A web site will be used to post information about the project, its objectives and preliminary results. Information collected during the project will be used for a brochure on wreck biodiversity and a book describing the most important species. The brochure will increase public awareness of the importance of marine diversity, and increase public support for marine protected areas. Another outcome of the project will be a set of standard protocols adapted to monitor biodiversity of hard substrates of the North Sea, such as wrecks and the constructions of windmill farms.

Plumose anemone - Metridium senile (Linnaeus, 1767), author: Alain Norro

Alcyonium digitatum Linnaeus, 1758, author: Alain Norro

Actinothoe sphyrodeta (Gosse, 1858), author: Alain Norro

Harmothoe sp., author: Vincent Zintzen

Tubularia indivisa Linnaeus, 1758, author: Vincent Zintzen

Supported by
the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office

General coordination: Jérôme Mallefet
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