Dredging is the excavation of material from a water environment. Possible reasons for dredging include improving existing water features; reshaping land and water features to alter drainage, navigability, and commercial use; constructing dams, dikes, and other controls for streams and shorelines; and recovering valuable mineral deposits or marine life having commercial value. In all but a few situations the excavation is undertaken by a specialist floating plant, known as a dredger. Dredging is carried out in many different locations and for many different purposes, but the main objectives are usually to recover material of value or use, or to create a greater depth of water. Dredges have been classified as suction or mechanical. Dredging has significant environmental impacts: it can disturb marine sediments, leading to both short- and long-term water pollution, destroy important seabed ecosystems, and can release human-sourced toxins captured in the sediment.
In a "hopper dredger", the dredged materials end up in a large onboard hold called a "hopper." A suction hopper dredger is usually used for maintenance dredging. A hopper dredge usually has doors in its bottom to empty the dredged materials, but some dredges empty their hoppers by splitting the two-halves of their hulls on large hydraulic hinges. Either way, as the vessel dredges, excess water in the dredged materials is spilled off as the heavier solids settle to the bottom of the hopper. This excess water is returned to the sea to reduce weight and increase the amount of solid material (or slurry) that can be carried in one load. When the hopper is filled with slurry, the dredger stops dredging and goes to a dump site and empties its hopper. Some hopper dredges are designed so they can also be emptied from above using pumps if dump sites are unavailable or if the dredge material is contaminated. Sometimes the slurry of dredgings and water is pumped straight into pipes which deposit it on nearby land. These pipes are also commonly known as dredge hoses, too. There are a few different types of dredge hoses that differ in terms of working pressure, float-ability, armored or not etc. Suction hoses, discharge armored hoses and self-floating hoses are some of the popular types engineered for transporting and discharging dredge materials. Some even had the pipes or hoses customised to exact dredging needs etc. Other times, it is pumped into barges (also called scows), which deposit it elsewhere while the dredge continues its work, and it is also a good gold mining equipment.
A number of vessels, notably in the UK and NW Europe de-water the hopper to dry the cargo to enable it to be discharged onto a quayside 'dry'. This is achieved principally using self discharge bucket wheel, drag scraper or excavator via conveyor systems. When contaminated (toxic) sediments are to be removed, or large volume inland disposal sites are unavailable, dredge slurries are reduced to dry solids via a process known as dewatering. Current dewatering techniques employ either centrifuges, geotube containers, large textile based filters or polymer flocculant/congealant based apparatus. In many projects, slurry dewatering is performed in large inland settling pits, although this is becoming less and less common as mechanical dewatering techniques continue to improve. Similarly, many groups (most notable in east Asia) are performing research towards utilizing dewatered sediments for the production of concretes and construction block, although the high organic content (in many cases) of this material is a hindrance toward such ends.
The proper management of contaminated sediments is a modern-day issue of significant concern. Because of a variety of maintenance activities, thousands of tonnes of contaminated sediment are dredged worldwide from commercial ports and other aquatic areas at high level of industrialization. The dredged materials can be reused after using some dredge accessories and appropriate decontamination treatment. A variety of processes has been proposed and tested at different scales of application (technologies for environmental remediation). Once decontaminated, the material could well suit the building industry, or could be used for beach nourishment.
The dredger operates through a long pipe, like some vacuum cleaners, but on a larger scale. Ordinary suction dredgers have no tools to interfere with materials at the end of the suction pipe. A trailing suction hopper dredger (TSHD) trails its suction pipe when working. The pipe, which is fitted with a dredge drag head, loads the dredge spoil into one or more hoppers in the vessel. When the hoppers are full, the TSHD sails to a disposal area and either dumps the material through doors in the hull or pumps the material out of the hoppers. Some dredges also self-offload using drag buckets and conveyors. A cutter-suction dredger's (CSD) suction tube has a cutting mechanism at the suction inlet. The cutting mechanism loosens the bed material and transports it to the suction mouth. The dredged material is usually sucked up by a wear-resistant centrifugal pump and discharged either through a pipe line or to a barge. Cutter-suction dredgers are most often used in geological areas consisting of hard surface materials (for example gravel deposits or surface bedrock) where a standard suction dredger would be ineffective. They can, if sufficiently powerful, be used instead of underwater blasting. A grab dredger picks up seabed material with a clam shell bucket, which hangs from an onboard crane or a crane barge, or is carried by a hydraulic arm, or is mounted like on a dragline. This technique is often used in excavation of bay mud. Most of these dredges are crane barges with spuds, steel piles that can be lowered and raised to position the dredge. A backhoe/dipper dredger has a backhoe like on some excavators. A crude but usable backhoe dredger can be made by mounting a land-type backhoe excavator on a pontoon. The six largest backhoe dredgers in the world are currently the Vitruvius, the Mimar Sinan, Postnik Yakovlev (Jan De Nul), the Samson (DEME), the Simson and the Goliath (Van Oord). They featured barge-mounted excavators. Small backhoe dredgers can be track-mounted and work from the bank of ditches. A backhoe dredger is equipped with a half-open shell. The shell is filled moving towards the machine. Usually dredged material is loaded in barges. This machine is mainly used in harbours and other shallow water.
In addition, a cutter-suction dredger's (CSD) suction tube has a cutting mechanism at the suction inlet. The cutting mechanism loosens the bed material and transports it to the suction mouth. The dredged material is usually sucked up by a wear-resistant centrifugal pump and discharged either through a pipe line or to a barge. Cutter-suction dredgers are most often used in geological areas consisting of hard surface materials (for example gravel deposits or surface bedrock) where a standard suction dredger would be ineffective. They can, if sufficiently powerful, be used instead of underwater blasting. As of 2018, the most powerful cutter-suction dredger in the world is DEME's Spartacus, which is scheduled to enter service in 2019. Therefore, dredge is also harvesting boat and service boat.