Ecosystem services: Towards integrated marine infrastructure project optimisation

Ecosystem services (ES) are the benefits that humans derive from nature (MEA 2005, TEEB 2010). The report provides the general concept of ecosystem services and the overall considerations on its use in the context of dredging projects.


The ecosystem services framework forms the bridge between ecosystems and human wellbeing. It shows how humans depend on ecosystems and ecosystem services explain the relationships. Furthermore, this framework helps to analyze the impacts humans have on ecosystems and the feed-back effects these changes have for the ecosystem benefits to humans.


The concept of Ecosystem Services has been recognised by IADC as relevant for the dredging industry. Use of this concept facilitates a more integral assessment of marine infrastructure projects.
It recognises all positive and negative impacts of an intervention on the delivered services by an ecosystem. The impacts on these services can be valued and monetised. Having a common denominator makes it possible to compare impacts and to decide where to mitigate or to compensate..
A lot of scientists are working on the concept, however, a translation to practice is very much lacking. For this the IADC Board approved a project to assess 5 marine projects along the lines of the ecosystem services concept.


The concept of ecosystem services has been discussed for decades but over recent years, it has been gaining more recognition within and outside the industry. It can help enable the design of more sustainable dredging and marine infrastructure works and their efficient implementation and realisation in environmentally sensitive areas. In addition, the concept of ecosystem services could be an important tool for integral evaluation of project effects (whether benefits or impacts) and achieving broad public support.

To help dredging industry professionals, especially those who are in the position to further the ecosystem services concept within their own organisations as well as project stakeholders gain an understanding of the value of the ecosystem services approach, the International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC) recently commissioned a study. The “Ecosystem services: Towards integrated marine infrastructure project optimisation” study was carried out by the Ecosystem Management Research Group (ECOBE) of the University of Antwerp. A specialist in ecosystem services and a group of experts from the dredging industry were also actively involved throughout the study to provide input on case studies and discuss intermediate results.

The study has been presented in a report, which is now available for download from IADC’s website.


The report provides the general concept of ecosystem services and the overall considerations on its use in the context of dredging projects. Five case studies in highly distinct environments are highlighted and they present the outcomes of ecosystem services application.

The case studies are:

  • Wind farms at sea (C-Power) in Belgium;
  • Botany Bay in Sydney, Australia;
  • Western Scheldt Container Terminal in the Netherlands;
  • Sand Engine in the Netherlands; and
  • Polders of Kruibeke in Belgium.

The presented results do not evaluate the projects but only assess the feasibility of the ecosystem services approach to gain a more integrated insight. The report also gives general considerations on the governance of ecosystem services assessments and their applicability in dredging practice.

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. As such, this goes a long way in helping companies in the dredging industry achieve project success.


  • Marc Huygens – DEME NV
  • Marcel van Parys – Jan De Nul NV
  • Stefan Aarninkhof – Royal Boskalis Westminster NV
  • Sander Dekker – Van Oord
  • Annelies Boerema – University of Antwerp
  • Katrien van der Biest – University of Antwerp
  • Patrick Meire – University of Antwerp
  • Elisabeth Ruijgrok – Witteveen + Bos
  • Rene Kolman - IADC