Benthic biodiversity near brine discharge sites in the Port of Rotterdam

Eleni Avramidi, Sergio Gomez Garcia, Sokratis Papaspyrou, Vasilis Louca, Frithjof Kuepper* (Corresponding Author), Dimitrios Xevgenos* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Port of Rotterdam is a heavily man-modified estuarine system, Europe’s major seaport and home to a large number of chemical and petrochemical plants, many of which are supplied with distilled water from two demineralized water plants in Botlek and Maasvlakte. In this study, we assessed the ecological conditions near the brine outfalls and at a reference site unimpacted by brine focusing on the benthic macrofaunal composition. Overall, the analysis of the communities and species revealed a similar macrobenthic composition, although with lower abundance and diversity compared to the nearby North Sea environment. The outfall area of the Botlek demineralized water plant , which is a dead-end entirely marine waterway with no to little currents in contrast to the well flushed brackish environment of the outfall of the Maasvlakte demineralized water plant, was characterized by the lowest abundance of benthic macroinvertebrates, species richness and Shannon diversity index. Higher
biodiversity values at the Maasvlakte demineralized water plant compared to the reference site were also associated with the presence of a large biogenic reef of the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas with specimens of over 8 years estimated age being observed, however with many dead individuals recorded at the time of surveys. The outfall area of the Botlek demineralized water plant also had the highest disturbance levels according to the results of AZTI’s Marine Biotic Index (AMBI)in conjunction with Benthos Ecosystem Quality Index (BEQI). Its community was dominated by the opportunistic native species Capitella capitata and Varicorbula gibba, and species typical for organic matter enrichment such as Alitta succinea (native), Streblospio cf shrubsolii (native) and Theora lubrica (invasive), which correlates well with higher levels of anthropogenic pollution in this area. Generalized linear model (GLM) and distance-based multivariate linear model (DistLM) showed that the distance from the outfalls was an important factor in terms of brine impacts however explaining a small part of the variation observed. Similarity percentage analysis (SIMPER), multivariate analysis and permutational multivariate analysis (PERMANOVA) showed low similarity between and within study sites, confirming that high levels of heterogeneity exist within the estuarine system in terms of natural conditions and anthropogenic stress.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100173
Number of pages16
JournalWater Resources and Industry
Early online date10 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

The authors are grateful to the European Commission for supporting the activities carried out in the framework of the H2020 European project ZERO BRINE (project under grant agreement No. 730390). This work also received support from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland pooling initiative. MASTS is funded by the Scottish Funding Council (grant reference HR09011) and contributing institutions. The authors are grateful to
the Port of Rotterdam Authority for providing access to the Tender and vessel Surveyor 2, sharing necessary information and data, and providing support during the field work and especially during the survey of July 2020 performed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we would like to thank Chris Schot (Constructions & Dredging Asset Manager), Ed de Boom (Planner baggerwerk), Robbert Wolf (Nature and environmental advisor), and the crew Edwin Smit, Ed Veth, Peter Mourik, Leo de Jong, and Daan Koornneef. The authors are also grateful to Rijkswaterstaat of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water
Management for providing monitoring data of the environmental quality in the Port of Rotterdam.

Data Availability Statement

Supplementary data to this article can be found online at


  • benthic macroinvertebrates
  • brine
  • Netherlands
  • Port of Rotterdam


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