Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Nature helps: sustainable use of ecosystem services

Many of the lost intertidal and subtidal ecosystems can provide valuable services to society such as sustainable food provision and nature-based flood defense. For this reason, there is a  growing effort to:
1.    Restore valuable intertidal ecosystems
2.    Use them in a sustainable way for the services they provide.

To achieve these goals, we require fundamental understanding of these ecosystems, their functioning, dynamics and resilience, which are all key research areas of EDS.    

  • Ecosystem-Restoration & Coastal Protection
  • Nature-based  solutions using reef builders
  • Building safety with coastal vegetation  
  • Functioning and ecosystem services of Tidal flats made from reclaimed potatostarch!
  • Big data supports nature-based solutions

There is growing evidence that vegetation like salt marshes, seagrass meadows and mangroves can help us defend our coast. Among others, the plants and the biogeomorphic foreshore they build, attenuate the waves hitting our dikes. And  because coastal vegetation typically traps sediment, they can keep up with sea level, making their defense value sustainable. Whereas the general concept is simple, translating this into practice requires a lot of knowledge on these ecosystems, both ecologically and physically. For example, will these vegetated systems still be effective under extreme conditions, when you really need the flood protection? And will they persist over a 50-year period, as is typically the life-span of a coastal dense structure? Are certain species more desirable than others? How should these ecosystems be managed to not only enhance safety, but also maintain other services like preserving biodiversity? We aim to provide the key-knowledge on these ecosystems, as needed to translate the idea to practice. So the  knowledge to be able to predict the ecosystem persistence and ecosystem services, in relation to species that are present, the management of the ecosystem.
Big data supports nature-based solutions
We are developing resources based on satellite and airborne data, combined with big data analysis to support nature-based solutions. Earth observation allows mapping of key variables (such as the structure of the vegetation to estimate wave attenuation over a saltmarsh, sediment characteristics to assess the habitat suitability for organisms living in the sediment). In addition, analysis of time-series of satellite images also allows an in-depth understanding of the functioning of these tidal systems. For example, to assess the potential of saltmarshes for flood defence and erosion risk management, we need to understand how foreshores develop, how stable they are and will be in the future and how their development is influenced.