Where Does The Foam On The Beach Come From?



Foam on the beach: a result of eutrophication. (photo: RBINS)
Where Does The Foam On The Beach Come From?
post by
Jonas Van Boxel

Eutrophication, the overdose of nutrients in water, is damaging our seas and rivers. Our Institute, together with The International Scheldt Commission and the Belgian Federal Public Service, organised a workshop for scientists and policymakers to stop this process.

If you have been to the Belgian coast, you probably noticed it: a yellowish foam, washing up on the beach. This bizarre phenomenon is the result of eutrophication, which is an increase of nutrients in the sea. Eutrophication is mostly due to human activities, like industry and agriculture.

Nutritious water: sounds positive, right? Actually, the boost of nitrates and phosphates is only good news for algae. Those start to grow fast, which can muddle the water, lead to oxygen depletion and destruction of other fauna and flora in the sea or river.

At the North Sea, the phytoplankton Phaeocystis thrives under eutrophication. These microscopic cells form floating colonies, a kind of gel, that is whipped into foam by the waves.

Better monitoring

Scientists presented their research on the current situation of eutrophication in rivers (Scheldt and Meuse) and the North Sea (the Belgian continental shelf) during a workshop in October 2016. Also attending were representatives from the three Belgian regions, the Federal level, France and the Netherlands.

The researchers show that the situation in our rivers and in the North Sea has stabilized over the last few years, but they also point out that the indicators for eutrophication have to be more clearly communicated. It is important that there is a consensus about indicators and statistics, in order to harmonize research and policy.

The result of the workshop was a list of recommendations to reconcile the work of international scientists and policy makers, to battle eutrophication in our waters as efficiently as possible. The group proposes more intense monitoring at sea as well as remote sensing with new generation satellites. Regional and international cooperation is key in the monitoring and modelling processes. Those are essential in mitigating the nutrient deposits from human activities.

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