Artificial rock pools for ecological enhancement of coastal infrastructure (MARINEFF)

Authors: Bone, J., Hall, A., Herbert, R. and Stafford, R.

Due to increased coastal infrastructure and sea level rise, coastal ecosystems are subject to habitat loss on an unprecedented scale, particularly intertidal habitats. Ecological enhancement addresses the issue of reduced biodiversity associated with loss of habitat by facilitating colonisation of previously uninhabitable man-made coastal infrastructure.

The EU Interreg Marineff project aims to enhance and protect coastal ecosystems in cross-border Channel regions with the use of biomimetic materials such as specially formulated concrete that encourages colonisation. One such structure is the ‘Vertipool’, an artificial rockpool cast with natural concrete. Vertipools allow for the retention of seawater during low tide providing habitat refugia for marine species. The use of textured moulds provides cracks and crevices on the Vertipools that would otherwise not occur on a smooth sea wall, which creates microhabitats for different species. The primary goal of the project is to increase marine biodiversity on coastal infrastructure by 15% with the installation of Vertipools compared to the biodiversity prior to installation. This satisfies the UK’s biodiversity net gain approach to development.

The project also aims to address questions and issues faced by coastal managers and engineers with the application of ecological enhancement on coastal infrastructure. These include investigating how retrofitting Vertipools can affect structural integrity of sea walls and the optimal formula of concrete for promoting marine species settlement. To ensure the Vertipools will be suitable for application by coastal engineers, the concrete will be tested for durability and mechanical strength. The Vertipools will be piloted on suitable sea wall sites on the French and English Channel coasts in order to optimise subsequent design for delivery within future coastal infrastructure planning. This project will provide solutions for simple, effective and robust ecological enhancement of coastal infrastructure that are proven and effective, transforming “grey” infrastructure to “blue/ green” infrastructure.

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