Impact of bottom trawling on water turbidity and muddy sediment of an unfished continental shelf

Palanques, A., J. Guillén, P. Puig

Limnol. Oceanogr., 46(5), 2001, 1100-1110 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2001.46.5.1100

ABSTRACT: Two experiments were carried out to study the effects of trawling in the muddy prodeltaic deposit of the Llobregat River in the northwestern Mediterranean. Trawling was conducted in two experimental lines, and bottom morphology, sediment texture, and water turbidity were analyzed before trawling and at different time intervals afterward. The tracks of the trawl gears were still observed in sonographs of the bottom 1 yr after the first experiment. The vertical grain size distribution of bottom deposits indicated that the thickness of the sediment removed by the net between the gears was about 2-3 cm on average, though the erosion produced by the gears was deeper. Resuspended aggregates with a high silt content settled during the first hour after trawling, generating a temporary increase in the silt content of the surface sediment. One day after trawling, the surface sediment was mixed and already had a similar grain size distribution to that before trawling. After the beginning of trawling, water turbidity increased first near the bottom for a few hours and later also at shallower levels of the water column within a period of 2-5 d after trawling. At the end of the experiment, about 10% of the sediment affected by trawling was diffused in the water column and the remaining 90% had settled on the bottom. Average turbidity in the water column increased by a factor of up to three for 4-5 d after trawling. This experiment shows that intense and continued trawling on continental shelves has a noticeable effect on water turbidity, which must be considered in addition to natural processes.

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