Concrete blocks research

A worldwide problem

Ocean sprawl – the proliferation of artificial structures in the marine environment is a global environmental problem. Humans are replacing natural habitats such as beaches, mudflats, seagrass beds, mangroves and rocky shores with hard artificial structures such as seawalls, harbours and rock armouring. Furthermore, there is an increasing number of offshore structures associated with energy extraction and aquaculture. 

These artificial environments are typically poor habitat for marine life and can promote the facilitation and spread of opportunistic and invasive non native species. In many regions, artificial structures dominate over 50 per cent of shorelines with myriad impacts on patterns of biodiversity and connectivity both between land and sea, and also within coastal and offshore environments.

Ecological engineering (eco-engineering) – make space for nature in the built environment. It integrates traditional ‘hard’ engineering criteria with ecological principles to create more sustainable ecosystems for the mutual benefit of society and nature.

Is there space for nature in the Anthropocene?

Dr Louise Firth's TEDx talk centres on how small-scale engineering interventions can be implemented on seawalls and other artificial marine structures to create suitable habitats for marine life.

The INSITE Synthesis project

The INSITE synthesis project began in January 2022. In late January, the Synthesis team hosted a series of workshops for expert scientists attended by 30 people from around the world. The focus was on what scientists think about the relative ecological effects of man-made structures in the sea and what could or should be done with those structures.  We asked those attending to complete a few simple tasks to capture their general thoughts, and we are currently collating, and synthesising evidence provided.
offshore gas platform - INSITE
Front cover of the World Ocean Assessment II report by the UN.

Sea level rise and cities feature in World Ocean Assessment II (WOA II)

WOA II is a collective effort of interdisciplinary writing teams made up of more than 300 experts, drawn from a pool of over 780 experts from around the world. It provides scientific information on the state of the marine environment in a comprehensive and integrated manner to support decisions and actions for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, in particular goal 14, as well as the implementation of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Read the WOA article

Dr Antony Knights was a member of an expert panel discussing offshore man-made structures at the 2021 Structures in the Marine Environment (SIME21) Conference in June 2021.

offshore gas platform
Greening of grey infrastructure should not be used as a Trojan horse to facilitate coastal development

Artificial habitats included in IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology 2.0

The research team was involved in developing the typology alongside more than 100 ecosystem scientists representing the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and 85 scientific institutions.

Read the IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology 2.0

Eco-engineering global ecosystem typology 2.0

Eco-engineering exhibit at National Marine Aquarium

The National Marine Aquarium has unveiled a new exhibit featuring BIOBLOCKS and Reef Cubes. 

The University of Plymouth has teamed up with Arc Marine, the National Marine Aquarium and Plymouth City Council to make space for nature on the shore and beneath the waves as part of the regeneration project at Teats Hill.

As part of the project replicas of the BIOBLOCK and reef cubes are on display at the National Marine Aquarium.

Read more about the Teats Hill Regeneration Project

Eco-engineering exhibit at National Marine Aquarium

Advising the Hong Kong government on eco-engineering of shorelines

Dr Louise Firth and a team of international experts were invited to Hong Kong in May 2018 to advise the Hong Kong government as part of the Ecoshoreline Project, led by Professor Kenny Leung, University of Hong Kong.

Ecoshoreline Project

Eco-engineering stakeholder workshop in Penang, Malaysia

Dr Louise Firth and her collaborator, Dr Su Yin Chee from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, led a stakeholder workshop on eco-engineering of artificial shorelines in September 2017.

Eco-engineering workshop