The question of whether the artificial surf reef at Boscombe in Dorset has generated value for money for the town is set to be examined by researchers at Plymouth University.
Academics at the institution will survey local businesses, hoteliers, fishermen and those who depend upon the marine environment for their livelihoods and their leisure, in a bid to gauge both the economic impact and social perception of the reef.
The reef, which opened in 2009, is the first of its kind in the northern hemisphere, and has attracted a great deal of interest. It has already been the subject of an independent performance review conducted by an academic at Plymouth, and is currently undergoing modification work.
Emma Rendle, from the Marine and Coastal Policy research group (MarCoPol) at the University, says the project will help to extend the debate into new territories. She said: “All the focus has been on the functionality of the reef. What we can now begin to consider is the socio-economic impact: can we quantify its benefits, and if so, do they outweigh the costs of construction?”
The web-based survey has been tailored to a wide variety of stakeholders. For example, commercial fisherman are asked if their catches in Poole Bay have changed since construction began on the reef; hoteliers and store owners can report on the effect the reef has had upon bookings, customers, and revenue; and sea users – from anglers and divers to surfers – are also asked as to how the reef has impacted upon their use of the water, and how much they spend in the town.
Not only will opinions be captured via the website, but researchers will also conduct a number of one-to-one s in the community. It will also be publicised via business networks, and the team has even offered to send paper copies to those people without access to the internet.
Emma said: “We would like as many people as possible to get involved and to share their views on the advantages and disadvantages for the artificial reef.
“This questionnaire will enable us to detail public attitude and perception and address areas of improvement if this technology is to be used in the future. With similar projects planned in the UK and in Europe, the results of the research will be of interest to coastal planners and policy makers.”