Waterborne transport has been proven time and time again to be economically viable and environmentally preferable to overland transport. Nonetheless, few ports are naturally deep and most modern ports, given the increasing size of container vessels, require investment in capital dredging. Access channels and turning basins need to be dredged to provide appropriate water depths along waterside facilities. Once established, these waterways continue to require regular maintenance dredging.
Worldwide population growth also contributes to the increased demand for dredging. About half the world’s population lives within 200 kilometres of a coastline and climate change has increased the risk of flooding and vulnerability of these populations. Ironically this means that both coastal development and coastal protection are necessities.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. This coastal urbanisation creates a need for more land for residential, employment and recreational facilities. Innovative dredging technologies have made it feasible to reclaim sand to build new land adjacent to existing urban areas or islands near the coast at reasonable cost.
More people living along the coast also means increased vulnerability for human life and property. Dredging also meets the demand of coastal populations for more beach protection against floods and other health and safety concerns.
These demographic developments are having an impact on the need for goods and services. In addition to the economic growth purely based on the increase in population, an additional increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is predicted over the next few decades for many countries. This economic boost is the result of further globalisation of markets and to the opening of formerly closed markets by new trade agreements.
Generally speaking, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC nations) have adjusted their political systems to embrace some aspects of capitalism. China and India, respectively, are dominant global suppliers of manufactured goods and services, while Brazil and Russia are dominant as suppliers of raw materials. Much of this new trade will be delivered by waterborne transportation and this increase in waterborne trade requires improvements and expansion of ports and harbours.
The search for offshore energy sources, first gas and oil, and presently the placement of windmills at sea, has spurred growth in the dredging industry. Levelling the seabed and laying cables, backfilling and rock placement have demanded new areas of expertise.