Ecological study of foreshore nourishment at the Flemish coast

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
The sandy beaches and foreshore harbor a relative diverse marine ecosystem. This ecosystem is very important as nursery ground for early life history stages of fish, shrimp and other marine organisms. Key components in the foreshore food web are phytoplankton, macrobenthos, hyperbenthos, epibenthos and demersal fish species. The well-functioning of the foreshore ecosystem is of vital importance for the health of the marine coastal ecosystem. Coastal areas are strongly threatened by climate change. Therefore, many strategies have been developed to protect weak spots. Hard substrates as coastal defense technique is known to hamper ecosystem functioning, therefore soft defense approaches such as beach nourishment, are applied worldwide. To optimize the maintenance of these nourishments (techniques, longevity, costs and management), foreshore nourishment is proposed as alternative technique. In Belgium, a pilot study on the effectiveness of such foreshore nourishment, and its effect on the local environment is running in Mariakerke. Although beach and foreshore nourishment are generally considered as less harmful than hard substrates, it might put severe pressure on the local biota. The community structure of intertidal and shallow subtidal macro-, hyper- and epibenthos and demersal fish before the start of the nourishment activity and the possible impact on these communities shortly after the nourishment will be already analysed. A follow-up for two years after the nourishment will show possible effects of foreshore nourishment by possible changes in the ecological value and the recovery capacity of the present fauna. The student involved has the opportunity to join the last sampling campaign of this monitoring project. In the lab, the samples will be analysed and changes in the ecosystem will be studied via biotic (biomass, density, diversity) and abiotic (grain size, organic matter) variables.
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contact person first name: 
Liesbet Colson
Other people involved: 
Promotor: Jan Vanaverbeke: co-promotor: Gert Van Hoey:
Reference Number: RP-35282