Project Coastbusters Biogenic reefs concept

Area characterisation: 

 The Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS) is a shallow and irregular sea that encompasses the southwestern region of the North Sea. Coastbusters 2.0 experiment setup was installed in the western coastal area of the BPNS (in front of the coastal municipality of De Panne), whereby two distinct hydrodynamic conditions were examined. Sheltered site (51° 07’19.2” N, 2°35’16.8” E) and exposed site (51°07'22.2"N 2°33'28.5"E) are situated at distances of 2 km and 5 km from the shoreline, respectively. 


 The public-private Coastbusters consortium aims to study and translate desired coastal protection functionality into designs that make use of the capability of ecosystem engineering species. In other words, does ecosystem creation and Nature-based Solutions’ technical design provide a more sustainable and cost-effective management approach to conventional coastal engineering? To answer this question, two Coastbusters research projects are executed, funded by the Flemish agency for Innovation and entrepreneurship (VLAIO) and co-funded by the industry (Dredging International part of the DEME-group, Jan de Nul group and Sioen industries). In the first – proof-of-concept – Coastbusters project (2017-2020) three ecosystem engineering species were tested: subtidal seaweeds (Saccharina latissima), intertidal tube building sand mason worms (Lanice conchilega), and subtidal blue mussels bivalves (Mytilus edulis). An initial assessment of the biogenic reef potential of each of the selected species revealed some basic insights on (tidal) boundary conditions, and into the efficiency of their facilitating structures. The sequel Coastbusters 2.0 project (2020-2023), concentrates on further in-depth investigation and optimization of the setup for one of ecosystem engineering species: the bivalve reef. The project focusses on developing new tunable marine biodegradable & sustainable (bio)materials and optimizing the reef setup design to facilitate the reef development in a more efficient,  sustainable and resilient way. The site is followed-up with advanced environmental monitoring techniques, researching the effects and boundary conditions of the reef, while developing the optimal sampling techniques and strategy.


The pioneering work of Coastbusters clearly demonstrated that each chosen ecosystem engineer and the boundary conditions at deployment location are crucial to the success of NbS projects. Hence, Coastbusters advocates for an Ecosystem-Based Coastal Management solution, with a longer lifetime, higher resilience to changing environmental conditions and reduced maintenance cost compared to conventional coastal protection systems - heading for a more sustainable coastal management.

Potential impacts/benefits: 

The implementation of the NbS-concept in the marine environment necessitates in-depth knowledge of the driving parameters and local natural processes. This expertise is needed to integrate the stochastic nature of ecosystem development with the traditional technical engineering of coastal management tools (i.e. design, installation, operational management and maintenance). The result is a ground-breaking new coastal management approach: a Nature-based engineering project which identifies coastal habitats and determines their viability, function and possible contribution to coastal protection.

NbS benefits 
  • Developing climate change adaptation; improving risk management and resilience
  • Better protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems
  • Increase Biodiversity
  • Increase quality and quantity of green and blue infrastructures
  • Increase awareness of NBS solution & their effectiveness and co benefits
  • Increase stakeholder awareness & knowledge about NBS
Transferability of the result: 

An ecosystem-based coastal NbS can only be brought into largescale practice as a regional solution, on condition that: sufficient space is present to accommodate the creation and development of (additional) ecosystems; key engineering species and its habitat naturally occur; and local stakeholders support development of ecosystem services. Once these conditions are met, solutions can be designed to translate the desired ecosystem engineering functionality into coastal management measures. On the one hand, such development requires a generic framework to select the appropriate measures based on the spatial and temporal scale of coastal protection. On the other, it requires knowledge (and broad dissemination thereof) on the ecology, engineering and ecosystem services delivered by the reef-forming ecosystem.

Lessons learned: 

The pioneering public-private Coastbusters consortium embraces the ecosystem approach and since 2017 has deployed multiple proof-of-concept pilots at the Belgian North Sea coast. Successful biogenic reefs of sand mason worms and blue mussels were formed in the intertidal and subtidal foreshore, respectively. Coastbusters scientifically underpinned research lines provide a first solid knowledge on the technical requirements for biofacilitating infrastructures’ modularity, optimal design configuration, selection of bio-based materials, innovative environmental onitoring and delivered ecosystem services. In the near future, the consortium will implement novel spin-off projects within a broader multiple-use of space framework to push sustainable coastal management forward.


Funded by the Flemish agency for Innovation and entrepreneurship (VLAIO) - Belgium.

NbS classification 
  • Biodiversity

Further information

Sustainable Development Goals 
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water