Marine Eco-engineering Research Unit

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. 

Paper published on the greening of grey infrastructure

The research team has published a key paper cautioning that the greening of grey infrastructure should not be used as a Trojan horse for facilitating coastal development.

Read the paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology

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 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

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.

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.