Living seawall in Plymouth

A global challenge

Rising human populations in coastal regions are driving the artificialisation of the global coastline. Structures such as seawalls, pilings, pontoons and marinas are replacing natural habitats such as saltmarshes, beaches, mudflats and rocky shores and their associated marine life. Whilst the structures themselves become colonised by some marine species, they typically lack the necessary complexity required for a biodiverse marine environment.
The University of Plymouth is a world leader in the field of marine eco-engineering – the design of sustainable infrastructure that provides mutual benefits for society and nature. In 2019, we were approached by local charity Our Only World who wanted to support the installation of a Living Seawall in Plymouth. Through close collaboration with our partners, we sourced funding to deploy a full-scale Living Seawall in Plymouth, which was installed in August 2023.
Seawall beside the Barbican in Plymouth
Living seawall component
Living Seawalls logo
Living seawall under construction

Living Seawalls: part of the solution

Originally designed by researchers in Sydney, Australia, Living Seawalls are modular systems by which critical habitats for marine life can be added to marine constructions at scale. Using 3D printing technology, the pits, crevices and pools often present on natural shorelines are recreated on modular concrete panels. 
The panels, which can be manufactured from upcycled materials, are then fitted to new or existing marine developments in customisable ‘Living Seawalls’ mosaics designed to last at least 20 years in locations of low wave exposure. 
Since the first Living Seawall was installed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge in late 2018, panels have been installed at 20 relatively sheltered sites in Australia and internationally in Plymouth (UK), Gibraltar, Wales, and Singapore, with an installation also planned for Boston (USA). These include urban renewal projects spanning hundreds of meters and private or public water frontages of 10m or less. 
Closeup of Living Seawall coated in small limpets and seaweed

The science

Living Seawalls provide an evidence-based solution to increasing the ecological value of artificial structures in the marine environment. The Living Seawalls concept is built on over 20 years of scientific research that demonstrates that incorporating ecological principles into new and existing construction can have significant biodiversity benefits.
The research in Sydney Harbour has shown that, after one to two years, Living Seawalls already support at least 36% more species than plain, unmodified seawalls, with as many as 85 species of invertebrates, seaweeds and fish living and growing on the panels (Bishop et al. 2022). This is similar to what was found on nearby natural rocky reefs, which are hotspots of biodiversity. 
The benefits of Living Seawalls, however, extend beyond invertebrates and seaweeds. Fish can find shelter in the habitat provided and benefit from the additional food sources found on the panels. By two years post-installation, greater numbers of fish were found in and around the Living Seawalls panels than on unmodified, flat, seawalls. The panels have been engineered to last at least 20 years, and it is likely that as time elapses, Living Seawalls will serve as a home to, and attract, even more species.
Living seawall closeup with algae
Living seawall coated in algae
Living seawall tiles exhibit
Living seawall component coated in algae

Plymouth Sound – The UK’s first National Marine Park

The unique waters of Plymouth Sound have been instrumental in shaping our city and nation’s heritage, culture, wealth and security. The National Marine Park will encourage greater prosperity and engagement with our marine environment.
The Living Seawall Plymouth builds on the National Marine Park’s current work and existing structures, by representing a new approach to how we value and work in harmony with the natural environment to deliver the greatest benefit for all. 
Find out more about the Plymouth Sound National Marine Park.
Plymouth Sound National Marine Park


Ocean exhibition (16 September–16 December 2023)

The Living Seawall in Plymouth is part of the Arts Institute's Ocean Exhibition. Ocean explores Plymouth’s unique natural harbour and maritime history that's steeped in a complex history of trading, culture, and colonial narratives. This encounter is amplified by the city's ongoing role as a global pioneer in marine research. Ocean is a testament to The Arts Institute's transformative shift: creating a forum where science and creativity meet, fostering an environment for conversation, and encouraging societal, economic, and environmental growth.

Green-Blue Grey Infrastructure Workshop (October 2023)

The Green-Blue Grey Infrastructure Workshop was a collaborative project with the University of Plymouth, Plymouth City Council, TECF, The Rockpool Project, RECLAIM and Ocean Conservation Trust, run by Dr Louise Firth in October 2023. The goal of the workshop was for a variety of stakeholders to present their perception of eco-engineered marine structures and how the greening of grey infrastructure impacts them in their fields. PhD student Franz Bauer then hosted a visit to the Living Seawall in Plymouth to provide an update on colonisation of the tiles less than two months after installation.

Living Seawalls at FUTURES2023 (30 September 2023)

Living Seawalls in Plymouth attended the Voyage of Discovery event as part of FUTURES2023. Funded by UK Research and Innovation, FUTURES brings research to life by giving you the opportunity to get creative, ask questions and try new things. The events showcase research innovation from the Universities of Bristol, Bath, Exeter, and Plymouth through an exciting array of free online and in-person events suitable for all ages, making learning a fun and interactive experience for the whole family.

Installation of the Plymouth Living Seawall (1–18 August 2023)

The Living Seawall in Plymouth was installed from 1 to 18 August 2023 by Cattewater Harbour Commissioners. Steel bolts were drilled into the existing seawall and bio-mimetic tiles with six different designs were affixed to the bolts.
Learn more about the design of the Living Seawall tiles and other innovative solutions to encourage marine life at Reef Design Lab.

Greening of Grey Infrastructure Workshop (July 2023)

The Greening of Grey Infrastructure workshop was a collaborative project with the University of Plymouth, Plymouth City Council, TECF, The Rockpool Project and Ocean Conservation Trust, run by Dr Louise Firth in July 2023. The goal of the workshop was to share information and gauge perceptions about eco-engineering in the run up to the Plymouth Living Seawall’s installation in August.

University researchers

Living Seawalls logo

Visit the Living Seawall and contact our team

The Living Seawall is immediately South of the Mayflower Steps, The Barbican, Plymouth, PL4 0LB