The right balance between environmental care, society and economic development

Maintaining a balance between care for the environment, economic development and societal needs is crucial and it requires an innovative approach to embed this philosophy in marine infrastructure projects. Stefan Aarninkhof, Boskalis Program Manager and Arjan van der Weck, General Manager Hydronamic — Boskalis’ in-house engineering consultancy — address the many benefits of Building with Nature (BwN).

Why did Boskalis start focusing on BwN?

Arjan: “Sustainable development is at the forefront of the Boskalis strategy and over the past years this has become an even more important focus. Low-lying delta areas are increasingly confronted with challenges associated with urbanization, economic development, accelerated sea level rise, subsidence and climate change. In addition, mining firms and oil and gas companies are going into even more challenging and vulnerable environments. A sustainable development is naturally in everyone’s interest.”

Stefan: “In the past decade a series of projects in The Netherlands had run into problems getting delayed or even cancelled because of environmental issues, so Boskalis and the wider industry felt something needed to be done. There was clearly a lack of fundamental ecological knowledge related to the construction of maritime infrastructure. This led to the innovative BwN program of which Boskalis is one of the founders and investment partners. The program is being implemented by the Ecoshape Foundation. The Dutch government and numerous companies, equipment suppliers, engineering consultancies, research institutes and universities are also involved. This makes it possible to cluster ecological, technological and policy knowledge. With the program we gained a lot of knowledge and experience about the dynamics of nature and how to use that information to arrive at better designs for marine infrastructure projects. Building with Nature, rather than against. What is special is that the program links very strongly with daily practice, which means that the knowledge can be put directly to the test in real-life situations. The first phase of the program, which was executed in 2008-2012, led to a set of design guidelines being developed and the program has now entered its second phase under the umbrella of the Dutch government’s Top Sector policy.”

Arjan van der Weck on the left and Stefan Aarninkhof on the right

How does Boskalis bring BwN to its own practice?

Stefan: “BwN requires a fundamentally different approach to projects. Interdisciplinary project teams take the natural system as the starting point for a design and look from the start for added value for all parties involved. All our years of involvement in this program have allowed us to develop an extensive knowledge base in the field of BwN. We have acquired a wealth of experience and built up a large national and international network.”

Arjan: “We set up a high-level task force with Boskalis top management involved and have ensured that we have all the expertise needed in-house. Ideas, concepts and opportunities are being embraced and developed and we have the support from the highest level of the company.”

What are the benefits for clients, using the BwN approach?

Arjan: “There are many advantages for our clients and this has already been proven on a number of key projects. Undoubtedly, the number one advantage — which our clients will be pleased to hear — is cost reduction. We are providing smart designs by using natural processes and always considering the impact on the environment. This eliminates the need for nature compensation schemes and environmental damage is avoided. On top of that this has implications for maintenance because a solution is much more adaptable than the more traditional solutions.”

We are providing smart designs by using natural processes and always considering the impact on the environment.

Can this approach have an impact on project lead-time?

Stefan: “Absolutely. Another major benefit is that there is a reduction in project lead-time. Essentially all the stakeholders are involved, it is a co-effort, a co-creation, therefore the design is much more acceptable and the project is less likely to be delayed or cancelled. The best-known Dutch example is the Sand Motor, an innovative solution to protect The Netherlands against the sea. The Dutch government stated that framing the Sand Motor as a BwN project has considerably helped them to run through all the necessary procedures in less than two years for this mammoth project. Quite an achievement.”

Arjan: “In addition to a shorter lead-time there are also other benefits. By depositing a large amount of sand in a single operation, repeated disruption of the vulnerable seabed is avoided. Putting the sand in one location is also much cheaper than doing it several times in many locations. And if the Sand Motor fulfills the expectations sand replenishment will be unnecessary for the next 20 years.”

Risk management is also an important benefit for clients. Can BwN play a role here as well?

Arjan: “Yes. Again this can be shown by one of our recent capital dredging projects where we used our BwN-engineering knowledge. In Southampton, UK, Boskalis was asked to deepen the fairway. In the past this had not gone very well because there was always a significant increase in turbidity and consequently, extra sedimentation. Neighboring yacht ports were not very pleased with the outcome. Boskalis came up with a new and cost-effective solution, which manages the turbidity risks by adaptive monitoring. Boskalis conducted three months of baseline monitoring before dredging began in March this year. Continued monitoring is coupled with the use of predictive tools and models, which accurately reveal possible impacts of the dredging. Because measurements are fed directly back into live operations this is a highly flexible way of working, which allows us to reduce risks substantially, both environmentally and economically.”

And certainly Boskalis needed to draw on all of its eco-engineering knowledge when it took part in the very prestigious Jamaican coral reef relocation project? This is the largest ever relocation of a coral reef in the world is that correct?

Arjan: “Yes, this is a great example of when BwN can make a project feasible which otherwise would not have been possible. In Jamaica, between August 2009 and April 2010, Boskalis was asked to help with the relocation of a coral reef and for dredging work for the Falmouth Cruise Ship Terminal, so the facility could receive the very largest cruise liners.”

“It was an enormous operation; a team of 80 divers was involved over a period of almost eight months. The coral was removed, together with some of the substrate and was ‘glued’ in the new locations using a special epoxy material that can even cope with severe hurricanes. Cement was also used and the substrate was fixed into position in the new locations using steel pins. The new colonies were inspected to see how healthy they were during the transplantation, but also a number of months after completion and once again in 2011. In 2011 we were able to definitely identify 86% of the transplanted coral and 96% had survived the ‘move’. That is a major success for the Jamaica coral transplant!”

Please look at our corporate website for more information on this project.

How do you see the future of BwN and will your efforts continue?

“We have many pioneering projects and studies going on. To give one example, we are looking into the use of mangroves in tropical regions as a means of coastal protection, rather than creating traditional dams or dikes. This also has the added benefit of creating opportunities for local communities, for instance for aquaculture.”

Arjan: “BwN is about creating shared values with smarter designs. Projects that may not have been feasible in the past are now within reach and it can actually help to complete projects better, faster and cheaper. We are very positive about the future.”