Sioen Industries working towards sustainable coastal stabilisation with Coastbusters project

The life on land needs protection, which is why Sioen aims to achieve SDG 15 by our involvement in the Coastbusters project, among others.

Coastbusters project

Sioen Industries takes part in the Coastbusters project. It is a partnership between DEME, eCoast, Jan De Nul, ILVO and Sioen and it is funded by the Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). The joint efforts resulted in the development of nature-based solutions for coastal stabilisation: biogenic mussel reefs.

The coastal protection problem

Due to climate change and its consequences, such as sea level rise, intensification of storms, increasing beach erosion, etc., coastal protection measures are increasingly becoming more important. This, combined with demographic evolution, loss of habitat and economic expansion, causes the ecosystem to be threatened.

Sea walls and dykes, which are the traditional coastal engineering techniques, have long been the preferred solutions to decrease flood risks. Those methods, however, are now considered unsustainable due to their unwanted ecological side effects. In addition, their restoration and conservation is hard to maintain and is expensive.

The Coastbusters project

The Coastbusters project targets a more nature-based and ecological alternative for the traditional sea walls and dykes. The original Coastbusters project took place from January 2017 to April 2020 and is now followed by the Coastbusters 2.0 project.

The Coastbusters research concentrated on biobuilder species that contribute to coastal stabilisation.

Coastbusters 1 focused on screening the viability of three biobuilder species off the Belgian coast. The three species groups are seaweed/seagrass, blue mussel and sand mason worm. According to the Blue Cluster website, the following three goals were identified:

  1. The organisms survive the dynamic conditions of the foreshore and maintain their ecological functions (Environmental status).
  2. The reef, built as a specific biogenic structure, is stable and creates ecological added value within the local coastal ecosystem (Ecosystem Services Provider).
  3. The natural reef develops in such a way that local sedimentation and natural stabilisation of the foreshore occurs (Coastal Protection).

Biobuilder species

Biobuilders are also called ecosystem engineers, as they are “specific marine plants or animals that create, significantly modify, maintain or destroy their habitat.” Their impact on natural processes is positive and improves their ecosystem’s resilience. Biogenic reefs with biobuilders can protect the coast and can counter coastal erosion by stabilising sediments around and under the reef. Without that protection, the impacts of storms would be much higher.

Coastbusters results

The results of the Coastbusters project for each of the three biobuilder species are the following, according to the Blue Cluster website:

  • The ambient circumstances in the Belgian North Sea are too aggressive for the smooth development of a seaweed biogenic reef. Seagrass growth, however, is possible and the first steps towards biodegradable textiles under marine conditions were taken.

  • The results for cultivation of the sand mason worm are positive and this worm is a potential resilient coastal builder. However, more research is needed before dedicated “ecological engineering” can be induced.

  • The pilot field tests with the blue mussel proved very promising. Although the feasibility of the basic concept is clearly demonstrated, several questions and operational challenges still remain. This will be further explored and monitored in the Coastbusters 2.0 project.

Coastbusters 2.0

As mentioned before, this follow-up project will go into further detail when it comes to the possibilities with the blue mussel biobuilder species. According to the Blue Cluster website, Coastbusters 2.0 will "analyse best designs for optimal reef growth and create tailor-made sustainable concepts, best-practice standards and sustainable products for nature-inspired coastal protective systems."​

Blue Innovation Award

In 2020, the Coastbuster project received a Blue Innovation Award. This is a Blue Cluster initiative to “give exposure to promising projects, products and services of companies, consortia and government institutions within the blue economy.” Blue innovation is believed to significantly contribute to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.

A public-private partnership

Coastbusters is a public-private partnership between DEME, eCoast, Jan De Nul, ILVO and Sioen Industries. The project is funded by the Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).

Coastbusters 2.0 was also funded by VLAIO and the partners for this current project are Dredging International, Jan De Nul, ILVO, VLIZ and Sioen Industries.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Coastbusters project directly seeks to find a sustainable solution for the coastal protection problem. With this initiative, we aim to achieve SDG 15, which states that we should "protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss."