Since centuries, human activities and natural processes affected the morphology and the ecology of the Scheldt estuary, the maritime access route to the port of Antwerp, Europe’s second largest harbour. Dredging activities are needed to maintain depths and width in the shipping route. A first significant dredging programme was executed 35 years ago. Antwerp has recently requested a further improvement of the shipping route. These works are located mainly in Dutch territory. Ecologists have blamed dredging works to be responsible for degradation of nature values. Environmental studies have been initiated by the Flemish and Dutch governments as part of a ‘Long Term Vision’ project for managing the Scheldt estuary. The Port of Antwerp requested a team of experts to give an independent advise on the feasibility of a further improvement of the maritime access. A diagnostic made by these experts stated that degradation of the estuarine nature values had been caused since long by land reclamation, while dredging as such had not significantly affected the trends observed before the first deepening. The Port of Antwerp Expert Team has developed a new approach for managing the estuary’s morphology based on a beneficial use of the sediment produced by the dredging, to rehabilitate the estuarine ecosystem.
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