The monitoring of sand and gravel extraction consists of two parts:

  • the monitoring of the activity and
  • the monitoring of the exploitation of the marine environment.

Monitoring of the activity

Every sand extraction vessel operating in the Belgian part of the North Sea must have a register on board. In this register, the captain of the sand extraction vessel records all relevant information about each extraction. In the course of 2024, the register will be replaced by an online application.

Since the end of the 90s, an automatic registration system (Electronic Monitoring System, EMS or also known as "black box") has been used for additional control. Commissioned by the Continental Shelf Service, the Measurement Service Ostend of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences carries out the management and inspection of these devices, as well as the processing of the registered data. In this way, it can be checked whether the conditions imposed in the concession decision are respected.

Since 2021, in addition to the automatic registration system, data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) of the sand extraction vessels are being used as well to monitor the activity.

Unannounced inspections at sea or in ports are also possible.

On the basis of the registers, the automatic registration system and the AIS data, the activity is mapped and monitored. 

Extraction areas: mined volumes in million m³ per sandbank (zone) based on the data from the registers.

mined volumes in million m³ per sandbank (zone) based on the data from the registers. 2018-2015
Source: Continental Shelf Service

Extraction areas: Detailed mapping of mining quantities (in m3 per ha) based on EMS data.

The extraction areas are depicted in black, the closed sub-areas in red and the Flemish Banks Habitat Directive Area in green.

Detailed mapping of mining quantities (in m3 per ha) based on EMS data. 2018-2022
Source: Continental Shelf Service

Monitoring of the impact of mining on the marine environment

Every year, various measurement campaigns are organised aboard the research vessels RV Belgica and RV Simon Stevin in order to observe the consequences of eploitation on the marine environment.

That research is carried out by three bodies:

  1. the Continental Shelf Service,
  2. the Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) and
  3. the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM – Department of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science (RBINS)).
Current research vessel RV Belgica
Current research vessel RV Belgica - © KBIN/OD Natuur
New research vessel RV Belgica
New research vessel RV Belgica - © Freire Shipyard/Rolls-Royce Marine AS
RV Simon Stevin
RV Simon Stevin © VLIZ - Decleer

The Continental Shelf Service uses a Kongsberg EM3002D multibeam echo sounder aboard the RV Belgica and a Kongsberg Maritime EM2040 multibeam sonar on board of the RV Simon Stevin to generate a detailed mapping of the seabed. These maps allow the impact of mining on the seabed's morphology to be evaluated. The multibeam echo sounder also allows the nature of seabed sediment to be determined. After measurements at sea, the data is subject to detailed study (corrections, controls and filtering) and modelling. After processing the bathymetric data which provides information about depth, it is possible to follow the evolution of the seabed precisely in the sand extraction zones. In this way, it is possible to evaluate the effects of mining.

In addition to the impact on the seabed, the biological impact of sand extraction on the marine environment is investigated in collaboration with ILVO. MUMM studies the ecosystem of the North Sea on the basis of mathematical models (mathematical formulas). If it turns out that a model corresponds to the obser

Last update
15 December 2023