The European Commission will look to the results of an EU funded project examining the effects of commercial sea-sand dredging on coastal erosion when drawing up new guidelines on commercial sand dredging activities. The project, 'SandPit', involves coastal oceanographers and engineers from 17 European institutes. Work began on the 4.1 million euro project in April 2002 and will continue for three years. Researchers will assess what effects sand dredging may have on the sea bed ecosystems and surrounding coastlines, and will draft European guidelines for sand dredging based on the optimum size, sea depth and distance from shore of any large scale commercial sand mining operation. The project will also assess how long it takes the ecosystem surrounding dredging areas to recover, and will pinpoint the depth at which sand mining has no measurable effect on the shoreline. 'Sand is transported in the water column, but the amount transported depends on variables such as the particle size of the sand, on the depth at which the dredging takes place, on currents, and in shallower waters, on wave patterns. Dredging itself, by changing the shape of the seabed, can affect the wave size and this can have consequent effects, including coastal erosion in some situations,' said Alan Davies, project coordinator. Assessments will be made following the dredging of a pit in the North Sea. The pit will be closely monitored to observe what happens both in the immediate vicinity and along the adjacent coastline. Measurements will be compared to current predictions, and computer models will be updated as necessary. North Sea countries such as Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands face immediate problems of coastal erosion, Dr Davies told CORDIS News, but the effects of dredging is an important issue in a number of applications, he added. The French are concerned about the movement of sand in their estuaries, and Italians are concerned about movement in the straits of Messina, and what effect this could have on a bridge between mainland Italy and Sicily. 'The Dutch are at the frontline with their plans for offshore islands,' said Dr Davies. In addition to creating new land for offshore wind farms, the Netherlands is also planning an offshore airport. The effects of dredging are therefore hugely important for the Dutch. Current guidelines on the volume and location of dredging activities vary from country to country, and are often based on data provided by small-scale models. SandPit will provide a stronger scientific base for future Europe-wide guidelines.