Reefs made of worms and mussels to protect coast against storms

Summary

Three unique pilot projects being carried out at the coast will see tube worms, mussels and seaweed tested as natural barriers against storms that sweep away tons of sand

Nature to the rescue

To construct reefs with seaweed, worms and mussels in the North Sea that will prevent heavy storms from sweeping away tons of sand from the Flemish coast – that is the goal of the new pilot project Coastbusters, launched in response to last year’s coastal storms.

At the end of 2016, the storm Dieter removed more than a million tons of sand when it swept over the Flemish coast. It cost about €17 million to repair the damage.

Several companies and the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research now plan to construct an eco-friendly buffer – a natural reef under the waterline. In a test zone of 100 square meters at De Panne, experts will examine which of three methods works best to retain the sand. 

One buffer will consist of seaweed planted on large textile mats that are tied to the seabed. A second will be a reef of mussels, for which a cord will be fixed under the surface. After a while, the mussels will fall from the wire and attach themselves to the seabed. If enough mussels stick to each other, their shells will form a natural reef.

A third method uses tube worms, which attach their tails to underwater surfaces and secrete a mineral around themselves for protection. Worms will be grouped together to create a worm reef. 

Once scientists determine which method works best, a reef of a few kilometres will be constructed.

Photo: MJJR/Wikimedia Commons