Effects of a 5-year trawling ban on the local benthic community in a wind farm in the Dutch coastal zone
As part of a large impact study in a wind farm (OWEZ) in the Dutch coastal zone, the effects of exclusion of bottom trawling on the benthic community were studied by comparison with nearby reference areas which were regularly fished. In addition to a standard boxcorer for common macrofauna, a Triple-D dredge was used to collect longer-lived, more sparsely distributed infauna and epifauna. Multivariate analysis did not reveal any difference between the assemblages in and outside OWEZ with respect to abundance, biomass, and production after a 5-year closure. The Shannon–Wiener diversity index pointed to a significantly higher diversity in OWEZ compared with some of the reference areas. A minority of the bivalve species assumed to be sensitive to trawling showed higher abundances (Spisula solida) or larger sizes (Tellina fabula, Ensis directus) in OWEZ than in some of the reference areas. In general, samples collected with the Triple-D showed more differences between areas than boxcore samples. No evidence was also found that the species composition in OWEZ relative to the reference areas had changed in the period between 1 (2007) and 5 (2011) years after closure. The change observed in all areas between 2007 and 2011 was mainly due to relatively small variations in species abundances. In conclusion, 5 years after the closure of OWEZ to fisheries, only subtle changes were measured in the local benthic community, i.e. a higher species diversity and an increased abundance and lengths of some bivalves. Depleted adult stocks, faunal patchiness, and a limited time for recovery (5 years) might explain that a significant recovery could not be found. The current study shows that designation of large-scale marine protected areas as planned for the North Sea will not automatically imply that restoration of benthic assemblages can be expected within a relatively short period of years.