Coastal communities

An international research project involving engineers and ecologists from the University of Plymouth has received an award from the European Commission.

The Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate (THESEUS), which ran from 2009 to 2013, was designed to deliver new ways of applying innovative technological and non-technological solutions to reduce risks on coasts.

Those behind the €8.5million project have now been presented with a Horizon Impact Award, dedicated to EU-funded projects whose results have created societal impact across Europe and beyond.

The University was one of 32 organisations involved in THESEUS, with researchers including Dr Louise Firth, Dr Mick Hanley, Professor Simon Rundle, Dr David Simmonds and Professor Richard Thompson OBE receiving almost €400,000 to work on both the ecological and engineering elements of the project.

They played a crucial role in helping to achieve the project’s aim of developing a holistic, participatory and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the physical, ecological, economic and social components of the coastal system.

Professor Thompson, who led the University’s work on the ecological aspects of the project, said:

“This multi-partner transdisciplinary project brought together some of leading marine scientists, coastal engineers and social scientists across the EU. The breadth of the project allowed us to make considerable advances in understanding and these have since been translated into real impact for coastal management and industrial innovation.

“The University of Plymouth led the ecological elements of the project, and that has directly led to subsequent funding and collaborations. I am delighted to see this recognition for the hard work of marine scientists and engineers at the University and the wider team across the EU.”

The THESEUS project, which was led by the University of Bologna, is one of four across Europe to be recognised in the first Horizon Impact Awards.

During the four-year collaboration, researchers improved the design of coastal defence structures and delivered advanced technologies and best practices based on the lessons learnt at study sites.

They tested the performance of both innovative and traditional defences, such as floating energy converters, submerged reefs, dikes and breakwaters, and nourishment operations in the context of increasing sea-level rise and extreme weather events.

To increase coastal resilience they also examined a wide range of ecologically based strategies, such as maintenance and reinforcement of wetlands, dunes and biogenic reefs, and cost-effective non-technological solutions, such as insurance, land-use plans, business recovery actions and promotion of risk awareness.

The project outcomes were synthesised in a book of guidelines and in a GIS-based decision support system, an exploratory tool allowing the users to perform an integrated coastal risk assessment and to scope different combinations of adaptation options, across short, medium and long-term scenarios.

University research published as part of the THESEUS project

Knights et al: Plymouth — A World Harbour through the ages. Regional Studies in Marine Science, doi: 10.1016/j.rsma.2016.02.002.

Hoggart et al: Ecological Approaches to Coastal Risk Mitigation. Coastal Risk Management in a Changing Climate, doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-397310-8.00004-X.

Koundouri et al: Toward Sustainable Decision Making. Coastal Risk Management in a Changing Climate, doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-397310-8.00006-3.

Nicholls et al: Developing a Holistic Approach to Assessing and Managing Coastal Flood Risk. Coastal Risk Management in a Changing Climate, doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-397310-8.00002-6.

Burcharth et al: Innovative Engineering Solutions and Best Practices to Mitigate Coastal Risk. Coastal Risk Management in a Changing Climate, doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-397310-8.00003-8.

Penning-Rowsell et al: Innovation in coastal risk management: An exploratory analysis of risk governance issues at eight THESEUS study sites. Coastal Engineering, doi: 10.1016/j.coastaleng.2013.12.005.

Zanuttigh et al: THESEUS decision support system for coastal risk management. Coastal Engineering, doi: 10.1016/j.coastaleng.2013.11.013.

Hoggart et al: The consequences of doing nothing: The effects of seawater flooding on coastal zones. Coastal Engineering, doi: 10.1016/j.coastaleng.2013.12.001.

Hanley et al: Shifting sands? Coastal protection by sand banks, beaches and dunes. Coastal Engineering, doi: 10.1016/j.coastaleng.2013.10.020.

Phoenix et al: Paradigmatic approaches to studying environment and human health: (Forgotten) implications for interdisciplinary research. Environmental Science & Policy, doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.10.015.

Naylor et al: Facilitating ecological enhancement of coastal infrastructure: The role of policy, people and planning. Environmental Science & Policy, 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.05.002.

The Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre (MBERC)

Members of the MBERC address a broad range of research questions, from the effects of environmental stress on microbes and developing embryos to the management of large scale impacts, such as global climate change.
Students in the national marine aquarium looking at fish in a big tank

The Marine Eco-engineering Research Unit

The proliferation of artificial structures in the marine environment is a global environmental problem, as humans are replacing natural habitats with hard artificial structures that are typically poor for marine life.