The Maplin Sands are mudflats on the northern bank of the Thames estuary, off Foulness Island, near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England, though they actually lie within the neighbouring borough of Rochford. They are valuable as a wildlife reserve, with a large colony of dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltei) and associated animal communities.
A screw-pile lighthouse was built on the sands in 1838, which was possibly the world's first.
In the later part of the 19th century John I. Thornycroft & Company and Yarrow Shipbuilders used the sands for the measured mile speed trials of their Destroyers. The shallow waters resulted in a flow of water that could add up to a knot to the ship's speed. When the Admiralty found out they required that all future trials be carried out in deep water.
Following the report of the 1968 Roskill Commission, in 1973 plans were proposed and approved for a third airport for London, the Thames Estuary Airport, but were abandoned in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. The project would also have included a deep-water harbour suitable for the container ships then coming into use, a high-speed rail link to London, and a new town for the accommodation of the thousands of workers who would be required.
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