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Monitoring the impacts of marine aggregate extraction

 | 
Robert Lafite
, 
Michel Desprez

Issues at stake

Texte intégral

  • 1 See glossary.

1In the future, marine aggregates1 will probably play a growing role in France in supplying the building industry with materials, but also in protecting land against coastal erosion by means of beach nourishment. Although 98% of the national production of aggregates is at present of terrestrial origin, the current situation is characterized by a depletion of ground resources and their increasingly difficult accessibility as a consequence of environmental, urban and social requirements. Consequently, extraction at sea, which today remains marginal (2%), appears to be an interesting solution since French territorial waters contain important accessible resources-mainly in the Eastern English Channel. In this area, up to a depth of 50 m, Ifremer has estimated the volume of exploitable deposits to be more than 30 billion m3 for out of the nearly 150 billion m3 evaluated for the whole of the French EEZ.

2Although quite a small seabed area is involved in extraction—0.1% of the British waters; 0.02% of the French metropolitan waters—fears have been raised about the impact that this strongly developing activity, as well as its cumulative effect with other types of exploitation at sea could have on the marine ecosystem. These concerns are approached ecosystemically and replaced in a context of Integrated Coastal Zone Management, both at the environmental but also economical level, namely for fisheries, and with regard to the natural heritage. The authorities’ missions of planning, assessing and managing the marine aggregate extraction activity have to be based on objective decision-making. This requires both in-depth scientific knowledge of the environmental characteristics of the seabed—sensitive and/or threatened habitats and species—and operational expertise for aggregate extraction in marine environments.

Marine aggregate exploitation: a supervised activity

3Marine aggregate extraction comes under the Mining Code and requires the 3 following joint permits (Decree of July 6, 2006):

  • a mining permit (exclusive research license or concession) is issued by the Ministry for Mines:

  • the exclusive research license is delivered to allow a deposit and its natural and human environment to be identified. It is granted for a maximum period of 5 years and is renewable twice.

  • the concession is for industrial extraction with a maximum duration of 50 years; this procedure is subject to a public inquiry.

  • a temporary authorization to occupy the maritime public domain or domain authorization is granted by the “Prefet” of the Department only for sites located in territorial waters;

  • an authorization to open mining works is granted by the “Prefet” of the Department:

  • a pre-licensing impact study assesses the initial state of the environment, the expected environmental impact of extraction and its compatibility with other activities carried out at sea. A Natura 2000 impact study may be required.

  • exploitation licensing requires environmental monitoring with bathymetric, morphological, sedimentary and biological controls during operation.

4The government services control the movements and activity of the extraction vessel (duration, depth, navigation…) and the volume of material removed.

Location map of the mining areas (authorized, in progress, stopped) and research permits in French territorial waters (source: IFREMER, 2011)
http://wwz.ifremer.fr/​drogm/​ressources_minerales/​materiaux_marins

Notes de fin

1 See glossary.

Table des illustrations

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© Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre, 2014

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