A detailed study of the seabed surrounding dredge pits created during the mining of marine aggregate from a small licence off the south coast of the United Kingdom (“Licence Area 122/3”) has been completed. Over 350 km of high-resolution sidescan sonar imagery and 177 sediment samples have been obtained over a study area extending 10 km either side of the dredge zone (representing one full tidal excursion) in order to identify far-field effects on both physical and biological resources of the seabed.
The physical results presented here for Area 122/3 clearly show that the physical impact of dredging (without screening) on the seabed is limited to a zone within approximately 300 m downtide of the dredge area. This will generally be within the dredge licence boundary due to operational procedures. There is no evidence of suspended sediments falling to the seabed beyond this zone and causing significant changes, which may be manifested as infilling of small pits by fine sediments, siltation within crevices or development of migratory sand ripples. However, there is some statistical evidence from grab sampling that surface sediments have a greater sand fraction within the excursion track of the plume, than those sediments either side. Despite this small change in seabed particle size distribution, the benthic communities do not exhibit a detectable impact, as reported in the accompanying paper by Newell et al. (2002).
Analysis of ADCP backscatter data supports recent evidence for development of a near bed benthic boundary plume some 2–4 metres thick and a few tens of metres wide which extends beyond the limits of the dredge activity. On an extraction licence undertaking cargo screening, this near bed plume may exceed 4.5 kilometres downtide. Such a phenomenon provides a potential mechanism for impacting physical and benthic resources well beyond the dredge licence boundary and requires further investigation.