Bournemouth University (BU) is investigating how artificial rock pools fixed to harbour walls can increase biodiversity by creating a habitat for marine species.
BU is looking at how to protect species from ‘coastal squeeze’ – an effect caused by rising sea levels that reduces the habitat of coastal marine life. As sea levels rise, rocky shore habitats are lost in areas with development like harbours and ports. The artificial rock pools, known as Vertipools, were designed by Isle of Wight based eco-engineering company Artecology.
The Marineff project (MARine INfrastructure EFFects) is a cross-Channel research project between universities and partners in the South of England and North of France. The project has €4.6million of European Union funding and brings together ecologists and material scientists from French and English universities, industrial partners and other stakeholders to find ways of protecting and enhancing coastal ecosystems.
The BU team, led by Dr Roger Herbert, will be installing 150 Vertipools across three sites and monitoring the life found in the pools. The team is currently looking at suitable sites along the Southern English and Northern French coasts.
Dr Herbert said: “Habitat loss is a serious threat to marine life as coastal development increases and sea level rises with climate warming. We will assess how Vertipools work in practice, how they can be designed for new structures and retro-fitted to existing sea walls and harbours.”
Other partners in the project are investigating different methods of increasing habitat availability and biodiversity in developed areas along both the French and English sides of the Channel. The project is focused on areas with coastal infrastructure like ports and harbours because these manmade structures are hostile areas for marine life.
The type of Vertipool that BU is investigating is made from natural low-carbon concrete and hand-finished to provide interesting, rough surfaces. Most harbour walls and coastal infrastructure have a smooth finish without any holes or grooves for species to attach to or hide in. Vertipools increase biodiversity by providing seawater pools, cracks and crevices for species to find cover at low tide.
Marineff Research Assistant Jessica Bone explained how Vertipools work in practice and said: “As coastal development increases on our coastlines, we are losing habitat for coastal species in exchange for harsh surfaces that are tough for species to colonise. Where sea level rise meets coastal development and squeezes intertidal habitat, we have to adapt infrastructure to enhance the available habitat.
“Vertipools retain water which provides a crucial refuge for marine species, particularly in a warming climate. The Vertipools also cast shade on the surrounding area and provide cool, damp spaces that species need to find shelter when the tide is out.
“Vertipools are important for biodiversity on coastal infrastructure and provide shelter, feeding opportunities and nursery habitat.”
Dr Herbert co-authored a paper on Vertipools that was recently published in Frontiers in Marine Science. To find out more about how Vertipools mitigate coastal squeeze, read the paper here.