Each year approx. 35 million m³ of marine sand is extracted from the North Sea. This quantity will increase greatly in the coming years. In about 1980 marine sand accounted for just a couple of per cent of the total quantity of sand extracted. Since then, the extraction rate has risen sharply. Between 1992 and 1996 approx. 20 million m³ of marine sand was brought up each year by dredging. Since 2000 the quantity has increased to roughly 35 million m³ a year. Recommendations for responsible coastal protection have been made by the Delta Commission. These alone require 85 million m³ of sand a year.
Marine sand is extracted in water a good 20 m deep and at a good distance (up to 20 km) from the coast. Extraction is carried out along the Dutch coast from the Belgian border to midway along the island of Schiermonnikoog. Over the next five years, more than 468 million m3 of sand will be dredged. At some sites in the North Sea sand dredging is not allowed. This tends to be because platforms or cables and pipelines are located there.
When sand is extracted, the top layer of the seabed is sucked up. This removes not only the sand, but also all the life contained in the sand. The benthos is a very important link in the food chain of the North Sea. What’s more, the turbulence caused by the trailing suction hopper dredgers makes the water turbid or cloudy. The light and oxygen in the water are reduced and this, too, adversely affects marine life.