The Guardian, 19th January 2016
Plan to extract sand and gravel to further develop Dover port will endanger marine life, say conservationists
A stretch of sandbars and shoals off the Kent coast home to seals, famous for shipwrecks and proposed as a marine conservation zone is at risk from dredging, conservationists warn.
Dover Harbour Board is considering dredging for sand and gravel from Goodwin Sands, which lies around six miles out from Deal, to expand cargo facilities and build a marina at Dover port.
But groups including the Kent Wildlife Trust, Marine Conservation Society and British Divers Marine Life Rescue have all expressed their concern at the extraction, which could start as soon as August.
Although the area has been dredged before for Dover port and Ramsgate up the coast, the amount of sand and gravel would be more than a third of the total amount extracted previously, between 1976 and 1998.
Goodwin Sands has also been under consideration for the last five years as a marine conservation zone (MCZ), which nearly doubled in number in England over the weekend.
An important site for grey and common seals to “haul out” on the sand to mate and rest, it provides foraging grounds for birds and the seabed is home to blue mussels and ross worm reefs. The worm is associated with a greater variety of marine life.
If the shifting sands of the area are confirmed as an MCZ next year, as conservationists hope, any dredging would need to undertake additional assessments to those needed without the protection.
Stephen Marsh, operations manager at the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which rescues seal pups up and down the Kent coast, said he was concerned at the prospect of dredging at Goodwin Sands.
“Common seals give birth to their pups out on the sandbanks; there are animals being born in July and possibly August. August is peak moulting time. The adults need to come out of the water then and spend as much time on the sand as possible. If they dredge at that time, that’s of concern.”
Bryony Chapman, marine policy officer at the Kent Wildlife Trust, said although the area had been dredged before, the amount being proposed now was a large volume.
“It’s still recovering from that previous dredging and we wouldn’t want it taken right back again. It’s an important site for seals. There are hundreds of seals that haul out there – it’s a significant number of animals.”
She added that the trust had met with the port and hoped they would seriously consider alternatives.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt of the Marine Conservation Society said he was concerned at the impact dredging could have on species, and potential harm to the substrate they live on.
But the port argues the area has been dredged before and would be capable of recovering.
“Goodwin Sands is a dynamic, highly mobile system and therefore the marine communities impacted by dredging at this location would be expected to recover well following disturbance,” says a report on the proposed scope of an environmental impact assessment of the dredging, commissioned by the port.
Conservationists said they were not opposed to the expansion of the port but the sand and gravel should be obtained from a less sensitive site.
For its part, the port argues taking the material from Goodwin Sands is a good local option and obtaining materials from further afield would result in higher CO2 emissions and NOx pollution, as well as road congestion.
A spokesman for the port said: “The Port of Dover is currently considering options, including Goodwin Sands, for sourcing aggregate for the approved Dover Western Docks Revival development, which includes a cargo and distribution centre, transformed waterfront, job opportunities for local people and greater space within the Eastern Docks for ferry traffic.
“We are actively engaging with a wide range of conservation organisations and authorities prior to any decision being made. Goodwin Sands has been identified as a good source of aggregate by the Crown Estate. We are in the process of undertaking a thorough environmental impact assessment and have been consulting with consultees to ensure their concerns are fully taken into account.”
The proposed dredging would take place over an 11.6 sq km area on the south part of the sands, in two phases, the first starting in August this year and ending in November 2017, and the second from March 2022 to August 2022.
Goodwin Sands is a notoriously dangerous stretch of coastal waters, with thousands of shipwrecks thought to lie there. In the great storm of 1703, 90 vessels were believed to have sunk, including a notable warship, the Stirling Castle.