The research can be divided into five research topics:
Initially, all information about the macrobenthic and physico-chemical variables (e.g. sedimentology, hydrodynamics, as well as pigment, organic matter and nutrient contents of the water column and sediments) of the marine protected area will be extracted from literature and compiled into a database. To represent the literature data in a surveyable way and to detect gaps in the current knowledge of the ecology of the marine protected area, this information will be summarised into geographical maps.
Additional to the cartographic material resulting from literature data (see above), an intensive and interdisciplinary sampling campaign to study the macrobenthic habitat of a selected sector is organised in Autumn 1999. During this campaign sampling of the macrobenthos and sedimentary environment as well as side-scan sonar recordings are performed simultaneously.
To study the temporal variation of the macrobenthos and physico-chemical environment a second intensive and interdisciplinary campaign is organised in Spring 2000. Combining all available literature data and the newly gathered information, the temporal variation of the benthic habitat can now be described.
All gathered macrobenthic and physico-chemical information will be summarised in a generalising habitat structure map of the marine protected area. This habitat structure map will present the macrobenthic and physico-chemical variables in a well-organised way. The map will describe the benthic habitat before the execution of the management plan (t0-situation) and will be of direct use to set up the management plan. Furthermore, the map will create opportunities for the development of a raster-based Geographical Information System (GIS).
The results of the interdisciplinary investigation of the benthic habitat will be used to develop time- and cost-efficient evaluation tools of the management plan. A first method will model the specific habitat preferences of the macrobenthic communities. This model (habitat-model) will be useful to predict the spatial distribution of the macrobenthic communities in an area with a known physical-chemical environment. By means of a second method the spatial distribution of the macrobenthic communities will be analyses through a standardised interpretation of side-scan sonar recordings (macrobenthic side-scan sonar interpretation). The applicability of both methods to develop methods for a time and cost-efficient permanent surveillance of the marine protected area (= monitoringsstrategy and -methodologies) will be evaluated.
Partners and their interactions
Because of the interdisciplinary character of the benthic habitat, the research is performed by a team with marine-biological (Ghent University, Department of Biology) as well as marine-geological expertise (Ghent University, Department of Geology & Soil Science). All data (macrobenthos, sedimentology, bathymetrical and side-scan sonar recordings) are collected simultaneously. Data exchange between both partners is stimulated by means of formal and informal meetings as well as a central data management.
Since 1970, the Marine Biology Section of the Department of Biology (Ghent University, Belgium) has been involved in ecological and systematic research of marine benthic ecosystems. Research is going on in the North Sea and adjacent estuaries. Since about ten years, other geographical areas have been included : Deep-sea areas in the Atlantic Ocean, Biology of the Antartic meiobenthos, Ecology of tropical estuaries and lagoons, Population dynamics of macrobenthos of coastal sandbanks and several Ph.D. studies.
The Research Unit Sedimentary geology and Engineering geology of the Department of Geology and Soil Science of Ghent University studies shallow-marine siliciclastic sedimentation systems by means of stratigraphy and comparative sedimentology of active and fossil forms. The Research Unit participates in studies on the sustainable management of the North Sea: HABITAT (OSTC, WWK) and BUDGET (OSTC). The project is carried out in co-operation with the Renard Centre of Marine Geology (Ghent University) and a private contractor Magelas. Staff members of the Research Unit are also actively involved in the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ).