Concrete blocks research

Current projects

DREAMS: Decommissioning – Relative Effects of Alternative Management Strategies (2020-2023)

Dr Antony Knights is Co-PI of two NERC INSITE (Influence of Man-made Structures in the Ecosystem) funded grants (DREAMS and INSITE Synthesis). He works closely with Dr Anaëlle Lemasson, who is a Post-doctoral Fellow on both the DREAMS and INSITE Synthesis projects, and Dr Louise Firth (INSITE Synthesis).
DREAMS is a collaborative project with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), and partnership with Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi, Harte Research Institute, USA.  DREAMS is a highly integrated project designed to develop new understanding of how man-made structures, and different decommissioning strategies for them, influence the structure, functioning and dynamics of marine ecosystems and affect delivery of ecosystem services from a whole ecosystem perspective. 
Our approach – to use novel integration and analyses of existing data from a wide range of sources, using structured, systematic and meta-analytic approaches, to quantify the effects of man-made structures on ecosystems and services.
Oil platform on sea. Oil platform on sea is offshore structure with facilities to drill wells, extract and process oil and natural gas and temporarily store produced goods until it can be brought to the shore for refining. In most cases the platform contains facilities to house the workforce.
Outcomes are being fed into state-of-the-art ecosystem models to forecast ecosystem states and estimates of goods and services, with associated trade-offs across spatial and temporal scales, based on a range of different decommissioning strategies. Working closely with academic, governance and environmental management stakeholders, we aim to inform decision-makers and stakeholders about the relative benefits and detriments of different strategies for decommissioning structures in the North Sea for the environment and people (Lemasson et al. 2021).

INSITE Synthesis (2022-2023)

The INSITE Sysnthesis is a collaborative project led by Antony Knights (UoP) and Paul Somerfield (PML). We are undertaking a synthesis of science consensus on the impacts of man-made structures (MMS) in the sea. This £300k project is building a world-wide consortium of scientists to provide expert opinion and contribute to a position paper outlining decommissioning impacts and best-practice options for the future.
offshore gas platform - INSITE

Testing the role of environmental filtering on invasive oysters (2021–2023)

The Pacific oyster is non-native to the UK but abundant on its shores, and so it is important that we understand what makes it a successful invader. The goal of this project is to identify interactions between Pacific oysters and key intertidal organisms which may lead to either the success or failure of oyster survival. Working with Arc Marine, frames of tiles with differing levels of complexity are being deployed at Torquay marina, UK in an ongoing project that will largely focus on the movement and grazing of limpets in response to substrate complexity and how this affects the settlement of oysters on the tiles.
PhD student Charlotte Clubley is supervised by Dr Antony Knights, Dr Louise Firth, Professor David Bilton (University of Plymouth), Tiago Silva (Cefas) and Louisa Wood (Blue Marine Foundation). She is leading this project as a part of her PhD: ‘Testing environment filters as mechanisms of ecosystem resilience to non-native species invasion’.
Project funded by University of Plymouth Pump Priming Research Grant.
Testing the role of environmental filtering on invasive oysters, Torquay frame and ARC Marine logo.

Teats Hill Regeneration Project (2018–date)

We have 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. 
Project 1: BIOBLOCKS
The foreshore at Teats Hill and the wider Plymouth area has both natural habitats (rocky shores, sandy beaches, mudflats) and artificial structures (seawalls, rock armouring, slipways, pontoons). These structures are typically constructed of either concrete or other smooth materials that offer poor habitat to marine life. 
There are 5 BIOBLOCKS on the foreshore at Teats Hill. Two of them are at the bottom of the old disused slipway and three of them are along the side of the University of Plymouth Marine Station slipway. 
BIOBLOCKs have a range of different habitats on each unit:
  • rock pools of different diameters and depths on the top
  • crevices and overhangs on two of the vertical sides
  • pits on the other two vertical sides
Bioblock information board at the National Marine Aquarium.
Louise Firth teaching students about Bioblocks by the sea
BIOBLOCKs would normally replace a boulder in rock armour in front of a seawall, but the BIOBLOCKs at Teats Hill are on display so that everyone can see them and enjoy them.
The original prototype BIOBLOCK is located in Colwyn Bay, North Wales and was designed by Louise Firth and Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) and Steve Hawkins (Marine Biological Association of the UK) as part of the Theseus and Urbane projects. 
If you want to find out more information about the original BIOBLOCK, you can read more in Firth et al. (2014) Coastal Engineeringand Sphere (summer 2017)
If you are a school pupil or teacher, you can read more about eco-engineering on the foreshore in Firth et al. (2016) Science Journal for Teens.
Project 2: Reef cubes under the water
Beneath the water, Plymouth Sound has many important natural habitats: seagrass beds, kelp forests, rocky reefs and sandy/muddy areas. These habitats are threatened by human activity and require protection and management.

World Harbour Project (2015–2019)

The goal of the World Harbour Project was to develop resilient urban ports and harbours through a global network of collaborating scientists. The University of Plymouth was the only UK partner in this consortium which comprises 25 harbours globally.

PhD student Katie O’Shaughnessy was supervised by Louise Firth, Richard Thompson, Mick Hanley, Paul Lunt (University of Plymouth) and Steve Hawkins (Marine Biological Association of the UK). She led the Plymouth component of a global eco-engineering experiment that tested the effect of both physical and biotic complexity on colonising marine life (O’Shaughnessy et al. 2021; Strain et al. 2021).

Katie’s research won the P1 foundation award in 2017.

Singapore Seawall Project (2017–2020)

Dr Louise Firth was invited to collaborate with the National University of Singapore on the Singapore Seawall Project (2017-2020). 
Peter Todd and Lynette Loke led an eco-engineering experiment that was conducted in both Plymouth and Singapore. They found that found that reduced pH concrete had no effect on colonising marine life (Hsiung et al. 2020)
Singapore - credit Louise Firth

Penang drilled rockpool experiment (2015–2019)

Penang Island, Malaysia is one of the most densely populated places on earth. In response to rising human populations, a number of large artificial islands are being constructed to provide residential, commercial and leisure infrastructure. 
Dr Louise Firth has been working with Dr Su Yin Chee from Universiti Sains Malaysia to devise eco-engineering solutions to compensate for the impacts on the marine environment (Chee et al, 2021).
The research team have characterised the present status and historical changes to the coastline of Penang (Chee et al. 2017). They have also been trialling a range of eco-engineering options in Penang, to test the efficacy of these solutions in a tropical context – to date they have only been tested in temperate conditions (Evans et al. 2016; Morris et al. 2017, and Morris et al. 2018). 
Penang artificial island project

Ongoing projects

  • Testing the role of environmental filtering on invasive oysters (2021-2023)  
  • Teats Hill Regeneration Project (2018-date)

Completed projects

  • Theseus (2009-2014): Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate. 
  • Urbane (2009-2014): Urban Research on Biodiversity on Artificial and Natural coastal Environment: enhancing biodiversity by intelligent design.
  • World Harbour Project (2014-2019)
  • Singapore Seawall Project (2016-2020)
  • Penang drilled rockpool experiment (2015-2019)