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WHP_PartnersWorld Harbour Project Partners - VIMS Participates in Bivalve Restoration Network indicated by purple markers - See Interactive Map

Eco-Engineering Initiative at Global Ports

Posted 1 November by Carol Brighton

With major metro areas built around ports across the globe, coastal cities share common concerns. The World Harbour Project (WHP) was formed by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science to foster collaboration between scientists on shared issues relating to the blue urban environment, including water quality and loss of biodiversity.

Scientist Rochelle Seitz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has joined the WHP's world-wide network of scientists investigating how to enhance the built marine environment and bring back native biodiversity lost to urbanization. Researchers representing 15 institutions are involved in the Bivalve Restoration Project. According to Seitz, all the scientists are replicating the same year long experiments examining how ecologically engineered structures introduced into waterways function and enhance ecosystems.

ReefLab_TilesSeeded and unseeded tiles have been installed in two Chesapeake Bay tributaries to study recruitment of native flora and fauna. Images: Above -World Harbour Project / Below - VIMS

VIMS Scientists Installing Tiles

Using identical substrate manufactured by Reef Design Lab of Melbourne, Australia, coastal researchers are deploying the specially formulated patterned tiles. Complex, low pH, fiber reinforced tiles arrived at VIMS over the summer and have been installed along bulkheads near the campus. "The tiles are mounted in the sweet spot of the intertidal zone, where there's a higher chance for species recruitment," explains Seitz. The over arching goal of the study is to determine the effectiveness of the substrate in different environments in order to improve new and replacement structures going into harbors and waterways. She notes that the tile studies also serve as a test bed for retrofitting existing structures.

Seitz reports that a total of 90 tiles have been installed along Sarah's Creek and Carmine's Island. At each location, colonization on a series of 3 Reef Design Lab tiles with varying levels of complexity is being monitored. Prior to deployment, 5 tiles from each group were seeded with native oysters at both low and high densities. The remainder were not seeded. Over the course of the year, species recruitment will be recorded. Seitz indicates that natural colonization is already evident. In addition to more oysters, sea lettuce and barnacles are making the tiles their home.

Coastal Development Invades Blue Space

This research is particularly important as significant coastal development is already encroaching upon the blue environment. In some major port cities, up to 80% of waterways have been transformed from their natural state. Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, coastal armoring occurs along about 11% of the entire Bay although much higher rates are evident around the Elizabeth River watershed in Norfolk and Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach (see image below). Similar to US demographics, half the world's population is located in close proximity to the coast. And migration to major cities along coasts is accelerating.

With industrial, commercial and residential demands for property, pressure in already densely developed areas is forcing movement into the blue environment. On top of urban expansion, sea level is rising. To accommodate growing populations and protect valuable real estate, shoreline armoring and aquatic infrastructure is likewise expanding. Substrate that support marine life are needed to protect ecosystems and the critical services they provide. Like the vegetated "green infrastructure" movement being developed upon city rooftops, walls and streets, blue infrastructure provides many human benefits including improved air and water quality, carbon sequestration and storm protection.




While in its infancy, blue eco-engineered infrastructure is already being developed. On the West Coast in Seattle, a replacement seawall with a textured surface and pockets is under construction along the downtown waterfront to restore habitat and sustain migrating salmon. In NYC, tide pools designed by ECOncrete have been incorporated into the rip-rap surrounding Pier 6 which is now part of the Brooklyn Bridge Park reaching into the East River. A recent blog post on the park's website reports that the tide pools are supporting "an abundance of life" with growth rates outpacing those seen along adjacent rocks. The reason: Increased levels of oxygen are supported by "photosynthesizing seaweed and algae" found in the ecologically engineered structures.

The team behind ECOncrete is also collaborating with the WHP scientists and their technology is included in SCAPE team's, winning submission for the "Rebuild by Design" competition to flood-proof the NYC harbor. According to company founder, Ido Sella, their concrete composites are completely compliant with marine performance specifications in structure and function. In addition, he suggests that the biogenic growth on their concrete matrixes actually improve the material. The company website states that the colonization of organisms "acts as a biological glue that strengthens the structure and adds to its stability and longevity."

Reef Design Lab, the WHP partner manufacturing the experimental tiles, is another incubator of innovative design for ecologically superior marine structures. Company cofounders, Alex Goad and Dave Lennon, specialize in 3D printed designs. Goad, an industrial designer, was recognized by Popular Science for a modular reef system that snaps together like legos in 2105. Now the team is working on a new concept that could work well to retrofit the developed marinescape: An architectural marine textile, a flexible tile infused mesh, that could be deployed on all types of surfaces including seawalls and around obscure structures. Considering the vast expanse of infrastructure that could be improved upon, the product has real potential. The company is also working on a floating reef system it plans to deploy soon.

WHP's efforts to bring together far-flung experts in the field of marine eco-engineering is inspiring synergy among innovators. Their research in support of a healthy urban marinescape isn't only good for communities under the water, human inhabitants will likewise benefit from better blue infrastructure. Follow the WHP facebook page to keep up with their research.

Read More About Eco Engineering in these Tidewater Current Posts:

Nature At Work: Building Ecological Infrastructure

Copying Nature: Biomimicry in Oyster Reef Restoration




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