Our people's stories

Sarah Sangster
Trainee

Sarah Sangster started the 18-month Boskalis traineeship program in 2015. Prior to that she spent eight months at Boskalis working on her thesis for her MSc in civil engineering at TU Delft. Her graduation project involved exploring ways of combining the economic objectives of ports with a targeted approach aimed at enhancing biodiversity. In November 2015 her thesis won the Hydraulic Engineering Award.

“Sarah Sangster started the 18-month Boskalis traineeship program in 2015. Prior to that she spent eight months at Boskalis working on her thesis for her MSc in civil engineering at TU Delft. Her graduation project involved exploring ways of combining the economic objectives of ports with a targeted approach aimed at enhancing biodiversity. In November 2015 her thesis won the Hydraulic Engineering Award.

Naturally I’m proud of the fact that my thesis ‘De Groene Poort in Rotterdam’ won the Hydraulic Engineering Award. This prize is awarded each year by the Dutch maritime industry sector association ‘Vereniging van Waterbouwers’ to students studying hydraulic engineering or a related subject. My background in civil engineering led to a conscious choice to graduate on a research topic involving a major role for eco-engineering. The Building with Nature philosophy really appeals to me, and its essence lies precisely in the need to combine a wide range of disciplines to come up with the right approach; you need engineers as well as ecologists and economists. The challenge of my research was to come up with a design for the nature-friendly development of port areas. Usually port developments tend only to consider economic and technical factors, but I really wanted to incorporate other aspects as well.

 

The ‘green’ approach is the only option!

One of the underlying assumptions of the research was the fact that ports and other delta regions play a crucial role in marine life, particularly for migratory fish such as sturgeon and salmon. Of course my civil engineering course didn’t teach me much about the optimum habitat for migratory fish, but fortunately Boskalis employs ecologists who really helped me out with this. In this part of the world migratory fish migrate from fresh to salt water, and the transition they have to make in order to do this is huge. They prepare for this transition in ports and river deltas, but need time and space to do this. At present port areas are poorly suited for this, but the conditions for fish can be improved through relatively simple measures.

One of the possibilities is to build longitudinal dams to mitigate the wave movement generated by passing ships, thus creating still areas along the banks or in old city harbors. In addition it is also important to improve the fishes’ food supply. Fish eat small crabs and worms, but in most port areas these are in short supply because almost all the banks and quay structures are made of rock or concrete. Opting instead to use sandy material for the revetments makes it easier for a wide range of plants and animals to develop. Other options might include using dredging spoils to create artificial flood plains, for example in the form of embankments behind the longitudinal dams. This allows the tidal effect to contribute towards an increase in plant and animal life, which in turn can make the port area more attractive to new bird species. There are many such ways of promoting biodiversity in port areas.

After obtaining my Masters in civil engineering I made a conscious choice to do a Boskalis traineeship. Boskalis is a large organization that can be brought in on projects right from the very start. This means that Boskalis can also make a difference in the approach chosen to execute a hydraulic engineering contract. There is room for own input in the projects. As a leader in the field of hydraulic engineering Boskalis has to keep innovating in order to retain its position, and I am convinced that Building with Nature is crucial to this. My principal point of consideration is that Boskalis understands how important it is to keep on searching for new, ‘green’ solutions. Boskalis makes all its project designs as ecologically friendly as it can, and that is something that is important to me. Authorities taking nature and the environment into account is really not just a big thing in the Netherlands or Europe. I am currently working as a trainee in Mexico and I have noticed that the Mexican government is also very focused on the environment. If an area of jungle is chopped down in Mexico the government requires the equivalent number of trees to be planted elsewhere, and to be honest I hadn’t expected that. Eco-engineering is becoming increasingly important everywhere in the world. More and more people are realizing that negative interventions in nature have a boomerang effect. Good ecosystems are crucial to the future of the planet and therefore also of the human race, and this is also one of the principles underlying the Building with Nature philosophy. Boskalis’ leading role in the field of eco-engineering is one of the main reasons I want to work for Boskalis.”

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