The Dutch Continental Shelf, the Dutch part of the North Sea, is twice as big as the land surface of the Netherlands. It is one of the most navigated and occupied seas of the world.
Human impacts and disturbances, mainly beam trawling, aggregate extraction, dumping or sub-marine cable-laying, have large impacts on the North Sea ecosystem, but especially the effects on the different benthic habitats and their associated species is still poorly recognized and understood.
There are indications that large differences exist in the way different benthic communities react to these disturbances and pressures, especially their resilience (recovery time after disturbance), but these are poorly understood and spatially not well defined.
The proposed program will make a large contribution to addressing this problem through three interlinked subprojects:
These three sub-projects represent a spatial hierarchy from coarse-grained to fine-grained analysis (from acoustics, to video methods, to box core sampling). This hierarchy allows the calibration of the larger-scale methods, and hence the mapping of relevant biological information over relatively large areas. Together they represent an integrated trade-off between the area that can be studied and the level of ecological detail and mechanism captured with a method.
The collected data, together with available datasets, will be used for developing species distribution models and will serve as ground thruthing for the other methods applied. The integration of the different results will lead to a methodological innovation and to new insights into the ecology and spatial distribution of vulnerable seafloor habitats and their associated organisms along the Dutch Continental Shelf.