Project News & Updates
New Ecostructure publication!
Fucus vesiculosus populations on artificial structures have potentially reduced fecundity and are dislodged at greater rates than on natural shore
by Veronica Farrugia Drakard, Paul Brooks, Tasman P. Crowe, Hannah S. Earp, Bryan Thompson, Nathan Bourke, Ruby George, Chloe Piper, and Pippa J.Moore.
Artificial structures are widespread features of coastal marine environments. These structures, however, are poor surrogates of natural rocky shores, meaning they generally support depauperate assemblages with reduced population sizes. Little is known about sub-lethal effects of such structures, for example, in terms of demographic properties and reproductive potential that may affect the dynamics and long-term viability of populations. Such understanding is particularly important for ecosystem engineer species, such as the intertidal seaweed Fucus vesiculosus.
In this study, F. vesiculosus was sampled on eight artificial structures and eight natural shores along the east coast of Ireland and the west coast of Wales. Algal percentage cover, biomass, density of individuals, and growth rate did not differ between artificial and natural shores. Growth and reproductive cycles were consistent with previous studies for this species. While there was considerable variation from site to site, on average, populations on natural shores produced a higher number of mature receptacles during the peak reproductive period in April, and lower rates of dislodgement than on artificial structures. As F. vesiculosus reach peak reproductive output after 24 months, this suggests that individuals may be removed from populations on artificial structures before reaching their full reproductive potential. In this case, this did not influence density, percentage cover, or biomass, which suggests that F. vesiculosus populations on artificial structures may function similarly to those on natural shores if supported by suitable source populations, but potentially may not persist otherwise.
Take a look at the full paper at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141113621000805.
Blue Seawalls: Using Artificial Structures to Support Biodiversity
Many of the world’s coasts now feature at least one seawall, breakwater, or other human modification to the natural coastline. But these artificial structures lack the biodiversity of the natural shorelines they modify. Can eco-engineering help? Ecostructure’s Veronica Farrugia Drakard of University College Dublin explains in this new article on the Women in Ocean Science blog:
New Ecostructure Publication!
Ocean sprawl is a growing threat to marine and coastal ecosystems globally, with wide-ranging consequences for natural habitats and species. Artificial structures built in the marine environment often support less diverse communities than natural rocky marine habitats because of low topographic complexity. Some structures can be eco-engineered to increase their complexity and promote biodiversity. Tried-and-tested eco-engineering approaches include building-in habitat designs to mimic features of natural reef topography that are important for biodiversity. Most designs mimic discrete microhabitat features like crevices or holes and are geometrically-simplified.
Here we propose that directly replicating the full fingerprint of natural reef topography in habitat designs makes a novel addition to the growing toolkit of eco-engineering options. We developed a five-step process for designing natural topography-based eco-engineering interventions for marine artificial structures. Given that topography is highly spatially variable in rocky reef habitats, our targeted approach seeks to identify and replicate the ‘best’ types of reef topography to satisfy specific eco-engineering objectives. We demonstrate and evaluate the process by designing three natural topography-based habitat units for intertidal structures, each targeting one of three hypothetical eco-engineering objectives. The process described can be adapted and applied according to user-specific priorities. Expanding the toolkit for eco-engineering marine structures is crucial to enable ecologically-informed designs that maximise biodiversity benefits from burgeoning ocean sprawl.
Read the paper at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925857420304328.
Ecostructure Wins ‘Better World’ Award!
We are thrilled and honoured to have been presented the Better World Award by EURid at last night’s beautiful .eu Web Awards gala — and by none other than Sting himself!
Our communications team is made up of Kathrin Kopke and Amy Dozier from the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine at University College Cork, who work with our researchers from Aberystwyth University, University College Dublin, Bangor University and Swansea University.
The phenomenal awards gala featured beautiful performances, streamed live from the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Italy. If you missed it, you can replay the entire event at https://vimeo.com/event/512302.
We still haven’t recovered from hearing ‘Ecostructure’ and ‘eco-engineering’ from the mouth of Sting (and likely will be basking in this joy for quite some time). We hope it will help spread awareness of eco-engineering solutions to climate change!
2020 Project Newsletter
Our 2020 project newsletter is here! Highlights include a summary of our recent eco-engineering fieldwork, modelling updates, our nomination for an .eu Web Award, raising lobsters in the lab, and our new work packages as part of our 18-month project extension.
Read it online at the links below, or head to our Newsletter page to download it for printing.
Ecostructure at the .eu Web Awards
Ecostructure is a finalist in this year’s .eu Web Awards, which will be live-streamed from Pisa, Italy on Wednesday, 16 December at 20:30 CET / 19:30 GMT. The Awards acknowledge the top .eu websites in 5 categories, and this year received 202 nominations and over 15,000 votes. We’d like to thank everyone once again for voting to get us to the final round!
EURid will be streaming the entire public awards ceremony, which will include a number of performances, through the Vimeo link below. Ecostructure’s Amy Dozier will be representing her work on the website at the event.
Visit https://vimeo.com/event/512302 to catch the event — including a performance by Sting! — at 20:30 CET / 19:30 GMT on Wednesday, 16 December 2020.
Ecostructure at CommOCEAN 2020
Ecostructure researchers Sonya Agnew and Amy Dozier both presented Ecostructure work at CommOCEAN 2020, the fourth edition of the marine science communications conference. Amy presented on the value of visual science communication, in which she discussed her work to create Ecostructure’s visual resources (see our Multimedia page for more!), while Sonya presented about her work on the Ecostructure Observatory.
Their presentations will be available soon on YouTube.
Ecostructure on TV!
Update: You can now watch the episode of Coast and Country featuring Ecostructure at https://www.itv.com/walesprogrammes/articles/coast-and-country-series-8-episode-4.
Keep an eye out for Ecostructure on Monday’s iTV Cymru Wales Coast and Country! Tune in at 7:30pm on Nov 16th to hear about Natural Resources Wales‘ installations in Milford Haven, including our experiments there.
Podcasts and Publicity
Ecostructure’s Dr. Pippa Moore just published a new article on The Conversation about the value of coastal habitat for carbon sequestration. Take a look at the article “Underwater forests draw down carbon too – why do we ignore coastal habitats?” by Pippa Moore and Nick Atkinson at The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/underwater-forests-draw-down-carbon-too-why-do-we-ignore-coastal-habitats-147481.
Big Picture Science Podcast
Six years ago, researchers detected a mass of unusually warm water in the Pacific that showed up on sea surface temp maps as a giant red blob. Marine heat waves like this are becoming more common and increasing in intensity, which begs several questions: How do they impact marine foodwebs? And should marine heatwaves be named & categorised like we do with hurricanes?
Ecostructure researcher Dr Pippa Moore talks about these questions and more in this week’s Big Picture Science podcast.
Earth Island Journal article
Did you know that shorelines hardened with artificial structures have up to 45% fewer species than natural ones in similar locations?
This piece from Earth Island Journal features work led by Dr Ally Evans to eco-engineer coastal structures to behave more like natural rocky shores.
Milford Haven Experiments
Through the support of the Port of Milford Haven, we installed some experimental rockpool units along the seawall back in August. Our goal with these is to determine the optimal size and spacing for wall-mounted rockpools, and whether a single large rock pool or several small rockpools are more beneficial for wildlife. This week we had a chance to check on the pools to see what has colonised them so far. As expected, the opportunistic green Ulva is first to arrive, but we’re also seeing quite a few grey topshells (Steromphala cineraria)!
Grey topshells are normally found in damp places at low shore, often under cobbles – not on plain seawalls at midshore level. They are important grazers in intertidal systems. So it appears that the pools may already be helping to extend the vertical range of lower shore species there.
The mounted rock pools are part of our research to improve biodiversity on artificial structures in light of climate change, and were manufactured by engineers from University College Dublin. The Port of Milford Haven supported this Ecostructure work as part of their environmental vision to promote biodiversity in the Milford Haven waterway.
View the gallery below to see the installation process and discover what’s started growing in our rock pools!
New Video Showing Eco-Engineering Installations!
We’ve added a new video to the Ecostructure project’s YouTube channel that shows the type of experiments we are conducting along the Irish Sea. Check out this video with Dr. Paul Brooks & Jennifer Coughlan from UCD School of Biology & Environmental Science and find out how this research is investigating ways of supporting coastal areas in adapting to climate change.
To learn more about what we’ve been installing and how it helps coastal wildlife, take a look at more videos on our Videos page. Video by Jennifer Coughlan (Senior Technical Officer), School of Biology & Environmental Science, UCD.
Ecostructure @ vICCE
Ecostructure researchers Dr. Md Salauddin will be presenting at this year’s virtual International Conference on Coastal Engineering. Registration is free at https://vicce.live/registration, so tune in to Session 110 on Oct 7! Details below:
Wednesday, October 7th Session #110: Overtopping
7:45 am-8:45 am UTC
Md Salauddin: DISTRIBUTION OF INDIVIDUAL OVERTOPPING VOLUMES ON A SLOPING STRUCTURE WITH A PERMEABLE FORESHORE
Zoom-Link for Desktop Client https://asce-org.zoom.us/j/93019761055Speakers
- Md Salauddin, University College Dublin, Assistant Professor
Coastal Structures: What do you know?
Coastal structures such as seawalls, piers & lighthouses are part of our cultural heritage & link to our maritime past. We’re really interested in what these structures mean for people & communities. Add coastal structures you’re familiar with to our map to contribute valuable information and share your stories to our citizen science platform!
Read more and add info at https://observatory.ecostructureproject.eu/projects/coastal-structures.
Virtual Project Meeting Success!
We just wrapped up a very successful (and supremely positive!) project meeting, which was held virtually over two days. On Day 1, project leaders presented broad updates on recent research activities, after which our Steering Group provided valuable input to guide Ecostructure’s future research directions. On Day 2, we heard from individual researchers (including post-docs and research assistants) on their work, which provided everyone with quick but detailed snapshots of the activities going on across the project. Although we were unable to meet in person, it was great to connect digitally and hear that despite the pandemic, everyone has been able to get back into the field or lab to continue work.
Our coastal structures survey has ended, but we’re still seeking opinions on our experiments to improve biodiversity on existing and future coastal structures in our ongoing perception survey.
The Ecostructure project is exploring ways of building ecologically-sensitive design into artificial coastal structures such as marinas, harbours, sea walls, piers and breakwaters. We have experiments along the Irish and Welsh coastlines where we are looking at the value of eco-sensitive designs for marine plants and animals. Alongside testing how useful these designs are for marine biodiversity, we are interested in gaining insight across a spectrum of stakeholders including local communities, industry members and representatives involved in coastal management
Take the 10-minute survey at https://bit.ly/ecostructure or click the button below.
We’re .EU Web Awards Finalists!
We are thrilled to announce that we’ve made it to the final round of the .EU Web Awards, thanks to your votes! Ecostructure is up against two other websites for the “Better World” award. The winners will be announced in November at a special awards ceremony. Wish us luck!
Learn more about the .EU Web Awards and see all the finalists at http://webawards.eurid.eu.
Tell us About Your Coastal Heritage
It’s Heritage Week in Ireland, and we’d love to know more about the coastal heritage near you! We’re looking people to submit information on coastal structures near them to the Ecostructure Observatory, our citizen science platform. There are myriad artificial structures along our Irish Sea coasts, such as sea walls, piers, breakwaters and harbours which protect our shorelines, give access for fishing boats, provide a place for us to visit and engage in diverse recreational activities, and connect us with our maritime heritage. Get involved – add your structures to our map and tell us why these structures are important for you and your community!
Visit the Observatory at https://observatory.ecostructureproject.eu/projects/coastal-structures/ to get mapping.
Ecostructure Funded for 18 Months of More Research!
We’re thrilled to announce that Ecostructure has been awarded 18 months of funding for additional research. In our second phase, we’ll be able to:
- Conduct larger-scale trials of our nature-based interventions
- Explore commercialisation
- Expand our research to commercially important species & offshore structures
Find out more about the extension in the announcement from Aberystwyth University.
New team members have already joined the project to begin work on novel eco-engineering designs for juvenile lobsters. With the hatcheries shut due to COVID-19, Harry Thatcher of Aberystwyth University had to quickly set up a small-scale lobster hatchery. Now he’s the proud father of a lot of larval lobsters, seen below:
The juvenile lobsters are transported to these tanks until they reach the early benthic phase, at which point our researchers will run habitat choice experiments. These experiments will inform the design of eco-engineered habitat units that can be deployed within the footprint of renewable energy devices (such as offshore wind turbines) or artificial structures (e.g. seawalls, breakwaters).
Meanwhile, work continues on the development of letterbox crevices in different materials, which can be mounted on coastal structures to provide shelter for marine life. Below, research assistants from the Aberystwyth University Forward Intern Scheme are removing letterbox crevices in two different materials from their moulds for experiments.
In Wales, we’ve also installed settlement plates for coralline algae, key foundation species often missing from coastal structures. These plates will be transferred to drilled rock pools on breakwaters to try making artificial rock pool communities more like natural ones.
If you’re interested in helping our research, you can do so by visiting the Contribute page, where we have three ongoing surveys that need your input!
Ecostructure Nominated for EU Web Awards!
We’ve been nominated for the EU Web Awards and we need your vote to get to Stage 2! Ecostructure has a chance to win advertising to help raise awareness about ecological enhancements to coastal structures and how they can improve biodiversity — turning the grey to green. There’s no sign-in or any registration required to vote, so it takes only a second: just hover over the Ecostructure thumbnail image in the link below and click “Vote”.
New Seashore Snail Survey
Search for Seashore Snails & Help Our Scientific Research
Have you seen a dogwhelk, purple topshell or toothed topshell on the coast of Ireland or Wales? If you have then we want to know about it! We need citizen scientists in Ireland and Wales to explore their local rocky shores and coastal defences, recording dog whelks, toothed topshells and purple topshells wherever they find them. If you use a mobile phone, the Ecostructure Observatory website will record the location of your records and will allow you to upload photographs so that our experts can confirm your species identification.
In order to assist you in identifying the seashore snails of the UK and Ireland, we’ve created a guide that you can print out and take with you to the seaside. Download the guide in the following formats:
In the video below, Ecostructure Project Coordinator Joe Ironside and his family show how you can take your family out on a snail hunt while contributing valuable data in this citizen science project.
Learn more and submit your observations at the Ecostructure Observatory.
Coastal Structures Survey
Clean lines, or green lines: how do coastal sea walls and the things that grow on them change the way we see them?
Ecostructure has a new survey seeking to understand attitudes towards coastal defence structures and the animals and seaweed that grow on them. In the survey, you will be presented with a series of images of coastal defence structures and will be asked which ones you prefer and how they make you feel. Your participation in this study will help us understand how the design of coastal structures affects the way that communities see and interact with them.
Take the new photo-based survey at the links below:
Ecostructure is hiring a post-doc to work with the team at Aberystwyth University. The position will involve working on DNA barcoding of non-native marine species in the Irish Sea, with a specific focus on range extensions due to climate change. Please share!
Stakeholder Perception Survey
Ecostructure is exploring ways of building eco-sensitive designs into coastal structures such as marinas, harbours, sea walls, piers and breakwaters to benefit marine plants and animals. We have experiments along the Irish and Welsh coastlines where we are looking at the value of eco-sensitive designs for marine plants and animals. We are also interested in what people think about these experiments and their shoreline (the harbour, marina or natural coast) more generally. Help us understand what you value about your coast and what you think of our eco-engineering experiments by taking our 10 minute survey.
New Fact Sheet on Invasive Species
Invasive species are one of the biggest threats to biodiversity worldwide. Coastal structures such as sea walls may be facilitating their spread by creating stepping-stones of suitable habitat. Learn about coastal non-native species & what we’re researching in our latest fact sheet. This can be used for schools, educational programmes, and more.
Annual Project Meeting
Our 2020 project meeting has wrapped after two very busy days in Dublin, where we were generously hosted by the Dublin Port Company. Our consortium, made up of researchers from Aberystwyth University, University College Dublin, Bangor University, Swansea University, and University College Cork was joined by members of our Steering Group and key stakeholders to participate and hear about Ecostructure’s research in 2019. Read up on key updates from each work package below:
WP2: Ecological Condition of Coastal Structures
Artificial coastal structures (often called grey infrastructure) are prolific along the Irish Sea coast. In total, the Work Package (WP) 2 team has counted 3481 artificial coastal structures (sea walls, breakwaters, etc.) in Ireland, and 3405 in Wales. WP2 has been looking at what proportion of the coast has been replaced by these structures, and what ecosystem services they may (or may not!) provide.
As part of this work, WP2 researchers have been busy mapping and characterising structures on Irish Sea coasts, examining the variation in their impacts, and exploring potential tools for improving structure design. Over the past year they’ve been working on:
- Examining differences between ecological communities on natural substrata and those on artificial structures, which often support non-native species and lower biodiversity.
- Characterising the surface topography of natural and artificial structures to discover the best models for designs to improve biodiversity
- Designing tools for decision makers that will help them plan for coastal structures according to what species are likely to inhabit the area (such as those of commercial, cultural, or ecological value)
- Predicting what functions different species on coastal structures might provide in order to help design ways to create habitat for desired species on and around these structures.
WP3: Building-in Ecologically-Sensitive Design
The commercial, recreational, and coastal protection structures that characterise our coasts typically support low biodiversity because they lack the key conditions for diverse species to flourish. WP3 has been investigating ways to enhance biodiversity through eco-engineering designs. From designing-in enhancements to seeding or transplanting native species, both the evidence base and ideas for eco-engineering designs are expanding rapidly. WP3 has been testing existing designs (such as those by ArtEcology) and designing and testing new ones for fieldwork experiments.
As part of this work, the WP3 team has also been looking at new concrete mixes. Concrete, the most common material used for coastal structures, has a high carbon footprint and makes a poor surface for marine species. Ecostructure is aiming to create a bespoke concrete mix for more sustainable and wildlife-friendly results.
Among the concrete eco-engineered units being tested by WP3 are mountable rock pools, which can be bolted onto sea walls to provide habitat for rocky shore species. But how should these be arranged for the biggest boost in biodiversity? The WP3 team has been looking into whether a single large or several small units (based on the SLOSS concept in ecology) create the most ideal conditions.
Regardless of the gains to biodiversity, however, the success of such eco-engineering enhancements depends on whether people are willing to accept these designs in their communities. Together, Work Packages 2, 3 and 5 have been working on a perception study to determine what eco-engineering enhancements people prefer visually. As many coastal structures have long histories and are associated with cultural heritage, exploring these histories and discovering what people value will allow us to better incorporate eco-engineering designs to the benefit of both people and nature.
WP4: Non-native Species and Biosecurity
Ports and marinas are often hotspots for invasive species. WP4 has been researching biosecurity protocols, tools for early warning, and practical interventions – alongside educational research and stakeholder engagement. To support this work, the WP4 team has been developing models to simulate the oceanography of the Irish Sea, which feeds into a visualisation tool in development. This tool can help us understand the dispersal & spread of larvae, including that of non-native invasive species.
The genetics team has also been examining eDNA approaches to invasive species detection. eDNA can be gathered cheaply, easily, and in a non-invasive manner, which allows us to determine species assemblages from genetic barcodes and revealing whether invasive species might be present. Of special interest to the project is the invasive tunicate Didemnum vexillum, also known as the Carpet Sea Squirt, which easily colonises artificial coastal structures and can spread to natural habitats. By examining outbreaks that very in severity, the WP4 team is assessing whether there is evidence for a link between genetic diversity and invasiveness in D. vexillum populations throughout the UK and Ireland. They plan to publish their findings within the next few months.
WP5: Society, Economy and Governance
WP5 has been engaging coastal communities to familiarise them with Ecostructure research through participatory mapping, citizen science, talks and surveys. Throughout 2019, WP5 has been managing the Ecostructure Observatory, a citizen science platform where coastal explorers can upload observations of species and structures they find along the Irish Sea coastline.
Community input is extremely important for the success of eco-engineering designs. WP5 will be conducting walking interviews along the coast to find out what cultural ecosystem services that coastal structures may provide, and to explore community needs and concerns through a storytelling approach that connects people to their coastal landscape.
WP6 & Overall
Finally, WP6 has been busy communicating Ecostructure research to the public, aiming to raise awareness of eco-engineering as a tool to improve biodiversity within the context of climate change. Last year the team produced a number of guides, fact sheets, and articles about the consortium’s research, which you can find on our project website. Follow along or reach out for a chat on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.
A huge thank you to Dublin Port Company for hosting and treating us to a wonderful tour, to our steering group for providing valuable input to improve Ecostucture’s research, and to all the stakeholders who joined us for a very busy two days!
We’re hiring! We’re looking for full-time Research Assistant to join the Aberystwyth University team supporting our marine biology and eco-engineering work.
This fieldwork-rich position involves looking at novel eco-engineering designs for juvenile lobsters, with plenty of boat-based, intertidal, and acoustic telemetry surveys. You’ll also be researching crustacean use of wind farm footprints.
Closing date is January 27 – so there’s still time to get an application in.
For information on how to apply and for more details, visit https://jobs.aber.ac.uk/en/vacancy/research-assistant-403149.html.
2019 Annual Project Newsletter
Our 2019 Project Newsletter is now online, with everything you need to know about our research progress, events, and accomplishments over 2019.
It’s been quite a busy year, from eco-engineering designing, prototyping, and testing to genetic analyses of invasive species, a BBC News feature to coralline algae transplant experiments. We’re really looking forward to continuing this work into 2020.
Ecostructure Featured in Bangor Uni Newsletter
Ecostructure researchers Dr. Peter Lawrence and Dr. Paul Brooks were featured in the latest issue of Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences newsletter for their brilliant work participating in June’s Festival of Discovery.
Also included in the newsletter is a feature from 2nd year Marine Biology student Thea Moule, who assisted Dr. Melanie Prentice on Work Package 4 research exploring the environmental tolerance of invasive species Didemnum vexillum.
New Time Lapse Video of Tile Installation
What does eco-engineering look like? Mix equal parts muscle and power tools, add two sturdy wellies, stir in a generous portion of careful observation, and bake for two days in just the right amount of Irish sun. Et voila: two sites installed in two days.
Dr. Paul Brooks took the time to set up this great time-lapse of our University College Dublin team installing some brand new topographic tiles. The tiles are part of Ecostructure experiments to test the ability of eco-engineering enhancements to boost biodiversity. By mimicking the surface complexity found naturally on rocky shores, we can create space for nature on man-made coastal structures.
Ecostructure shoutout in the Financial Times
Eco-engineering is steadily gaining more traction in the media. A recent Financial Times article featured Israel’s use of an eco-friendly building material called Econcrete, with a nice mention of the Ecostructure project. Dr. Ally Evans, Ecostructure researcher at Aberystwyth University, was quoted discussing the low biodiversity found on concrete coastal structures like sea walls.
Such structures “tend to be poor quality habitats when they replace natural habitats,” says Ally Evans, an Aberystwyth university researcher involved with Ecostructure, a project in Wales and Ireland that promotes coastal defences that benefit the environment. “They support quite weedy species and only tough things can survive on them, and it tends to be because of the quite simple uniform design of the materials.”
Econcrete, founded by Shimrit Perkol-Finkel and Ido Sella, is a company producing concrete for marine construction “that it says is less harmful to the environment and encourages the coastal ecosystem, at only a marginal increase in cost at scale without undermining structural integrity.”
Read the article at https://www.ft.com/content/83e3181c-b785-11e9-8a88-aa6628ac896c. To learn more about Econcrete, visit their website at https://econcretetech.com.
New Information Boards at Experiment Sites
The coastal built environment is full of structures for human purposes, from piers and marinas to sea walls and breakwaters. As the impacts of climate change become more apparent, more structures will be built to protect shorelines and coastal communities from sea level rise, flooding, and storm surge. These structures, however, can replace valuable natural habitat to intertidal organisms. Is there a way to serve human interests without harming coastal biodiversity?
We’ve been busy looking into this very question. Ecostructure researchers have been putting experimental designs into place to test ways to make artificial structures better for wildlife. We’ve been working with creative eco-engineering designers such as Artecology and Reef Design Lab, whose designs work to mimic the natural complexity of surfaces found in the intertidal zone. As it turns out, the featureless, smooth concrete so commonly used for coastal structures makes it an unwelcome place for species such as algae, crabs, seashore snails, and shannies. By adding back in the nooks and crannies that they can attach to and inhabit, we can improve biodiversity in the coastal built environment.
At experimental sites in both Ireland and Wales, we’ve been installing eco-engineering designs to test out their effectiveness toward this aim. Our activities have ranged from drilling holes into rock groynes to mimic natural rock pools to installing tiles designed for biodiversity on sea walls. At some of our locations, we’ve installed information boards where you can learn more about the specific strategies we’re testing. Take a look at the information boards in action at Kilmore Quay in Ireland, and our bilingual versions at New Quay in Wales.
New Invasive Species Fact Sheet
Didemnum vexillum might be one of the stranger-looking organisms you’ll find along the coast. Commonly known as the Carpet Sea Squirt, this tunicate has earned a number of colourful nicknames due to its yellowish-brown, amorphous appearance. But its presence on Irish and Welsh shores is only a recent phenomenon. Considered an invasive species in the British Isles, the carpet sea squirt is actually native to Japanese waters. It likely arrived in European waters via hull fouling or the aquaculture trade, and the first recorded presence of D. vexillum was in Ireland in 2005.
Managing any invasive species is a difficult task, but the rapid growth rate of the carpet sea squirt and its ability to colonise human-made structures makes it a particular challenge for coastal authorities. The carpet sea squirt is known to out-compete native species for space or food, smother commercially important species, and even prevent the eggs and larvae of native species from settling due to its acidic outer surface. Unfortunately, attempted eradication programmes have so far met with little success, and the high cost has prevented their broad application.
Ecostructure is actively researching what contributes to the spread of D. vexillum colonies in Ireland and Wales. Our researchers are analysing genetic factors to shed light on why invasions have occurred in some locations and not others. By examining the spread of the carpet sea squirt, we hope to identify tools and preventative measures that can be taken to impede new invasions.
For more information, take a look at our new downloadable fact sheet on the Carpet Sea Squirt, then try your hand at the challenging crossword on the back. This interactive fact sheet is great for teachers or coastal managers who are interested in sharing information about invasive species in Ireland and Wales. It’s also available in Welsh on our Downloadable Resources Page.
Ecostructure on BBC News!
Exciting news! Ecostructure researchers were interviewed and filmed by BBC News installing 3-D experimental tiles on the breakwater at Borth, Wales. The tiles are part of our experiments to determine ways to increase biodiversity on artificial structures. Artificial structures are man-made elements you’ll find along the coast like breakwaters, rock groynes, and sea walls, that aim to reduce wave energy and protect the shoreline. By creating tiles with plenty of nooks and crannies for species to colonise, we hope that these tiles will allow species whose habitat has vanished as a result of these artificial structures to inhabit our shores once more.
Take a look at the video below:
Ecostructure Writeup on Aberystwyth University website
Summer fieldwork by Ecostructure researchers has been getting some great media attention. Check out this nice writeup on the project by Aberystwyth University featuring Dr. Pippa Moore.
“We know sea defences support less wildlife because they lack the complexity of habitats found on natural rocky shores. So what we’re doing is finding ways in which some of our most diverse and rare sea life can thrive in these new environments.
“The tiles we have created are incredibly detailed – mimicking some of the natural surfaces which have been the bedrock of some species survival around our coasts. We’re now at a stage where we can deploy these tiles on our coastal defences for the first time and see for ourselves how much of a difference they can make to the biodiversity which those areas support. After attaching the tiles to the sea defences, we will be closely monitoring how life embeds itself on them. It is an incredibly exciting step forward in this vital research area.”
Read the full article at https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2019/08/title-224985-en.html.
ECOSTRUCTURE Team at the Festival of Discovery!
Ecostructure partners were out in full force for the Festival of Discovery last weekend at the exciting three day festival in Anglesey, Wales. Peter Lawrence of Bangor University coordinated the team’s efforts to engage visitors from all walks of life, from families to researchers to government representatives. The team came equipped with VR goggles to get a 360 degree view of life at a rocky shore, what sea defenses look like, and even see how the world looks from the perspective of a rockpool sea snail.
Other interactive activities included modelling where creatures live and how they can colonise eco-engineering designs, learning about mapping and scanning of rockpools and coastal structures, and discovering how researchers capture data using drones and lasers, bringing the coast back into the laboratory.
Flying over the entire stand was a view of the evolution of drone technology, from early models to today’s latest.
An interactive sandbox was set up including a number of 3-D printed and painted species: these creatures helped visitors learn about shoreline topographic and biodiversity.
Overall, 1300 people passed through the doors each day, making the event a smashing success. Our researchers personally engaged with over 580 visitors, including 21 employees of the public sector, 448 members of the public, 43 researchers, and 71 coastal stakeholders.
While the Festival of Discovery has passed for the year, you can still take a look at our mesmerising 360° videos at our YouTube channel:
And interested in more events Ecostructure is attending? Follow along with us on Twitter to learn more about where we’ll be and what we’re doing!
ECOSTRUCTURE Steering Committee and Project Meeting – Bangor, Wales
A great couple of days! This week saw ECOSTRUCTURE partners and Steering Group members exchange project knowledge in Bangor, Wales. Bangor University hosted this year’s project meeting at their School of Ocean Sciences, perched along the banks of the Menai Strait. Day 1 saw ECOSTRUCTURE researchers present their work to date, highlighting the incredible progress made since the project’s inception, along with the exciting things still to come before the project’s end. After digesting the information in the Work Package presentations, Steering Committee members provided insightful feedback and guidance that partners will intertwine into their forthcoming initiatives.
Day 2 was all about collaboration. During a series of breakout groups organised by topic, e.g. hydrodynamic modelling, or stakeholder networking, partners exchanged ideas across work packages to aid future work. Cross-disciplinary perspectives ensure ECOSTRUCTURE is synergistic, extending the project’s salience and overall ability to promote eco-engineering solutions that benefit coastal environments and communities.
New Videos Showing ECOSTRUCTURE Research
Our researchers have been out in the field sampling for native and invasive species on Irish and Welsh shores. Find out more about how species may be using hard structures to expand their ranges in the following videos.
Mae ein hymchwilwyr wedi bod allan yn samplu rhywogaethau brodorol a goresgynnol ar hyd glannau Cymru ac Iwerddon. Gwyliwch y fideos canlynol i gael gwybod mwy am sut y gallai rhywogaethau fod yn defnyddio strwythurau caled i ehangu eu cynefin.
Our end-of-year project newsletter is now available! We’ve had a busy and productive year with the Ecostructure project, and we’re delighted to report to you on our progress. Take a look at our updates from over the year, including fieldwork and conferences.
New ECOSTRUCTURE Publication
View the latest Ecostructure publication in Environmental Science & Policy: ‘From ocean sprawl to blue-green infrastructure – A UK perspective on an issue of global significance.’ Free download access is available until December 22, 2018. If you wish to know more about the paper, you can contact the authors through their respective institutions, as listed below.
Click the image to access the publication.
September – November 2018
As winter tightens its grip, Ecostructure researchers are closing out the year in style. Over the past few months, the team has collected swaths of data along Irish and Welsh Coastlines, and presented project information to local stakeholders (of all ages) and at professional conferences, all while finding the time to publish new findings.
Despite the occasional cloudy day, our researchers have maintained high spirits, and even took some time to interact with the Dun Laoighre powerboat school summer program. Members from UCD provided an impromptu demonstration of Ecostructure techniques, showing the scientists of tomorrow how to sample intertidal biodiversity on seawalls – a primary focus of WP2.
Our work has brought with it opportunities to deploy new, state of the art tech to map and characterise the intrinsic and extrinsic features of coastal structures, this time in Louth Harbour and Greystones Harbour. Researchers will use the data they have collected to build detailed, 3D models of artificial coastal structures to aid in the development of effective eco-engineering solutions in the face of climate change. In addition, researchers managed to install the very first cohort of ‘Compton’ model Vertipools at Kilmore Quay. These Vertipools were designed by project stakeholders Artecology, and will be used to research innovative structural designs to promote ecological sensitivity.
Project efforts were displayed at the SynerCrete18 conference in Madeira, Portugal during the last week of October. Ecostructure engineers presented their work, ‘A concrete home for marine micro inhabitants,’ a fitting addition to the conferences’ promotion of interdisciplinary perspectives to better understanding the complex behaviour of cement-based materials.
Follow all Ecostructure news and events in real time through our twitter page! See you there.
July – August 2018
Summer Research 2018
The Ecostructure team has made tremendous progress with their fieldwork activities over the past few months. Researchers from Aberystwyth University, University College Dublin, and Bangor University have been working diligently through our warm weather to understand how artificial structures, in addition to climate change, are altering species compositions along the coastlines of Ireland and Wales.
Using nature as a template, Ecostructure presents creative ecoengineering solutions to mitigating the harmful impacts associated with coastal development and a changing climate. Innovations like artificial tidal rockpools make manmade structures in the marine environment more hospitable for native species, helping reestablish habitats that may have been destroyed by previous development projects. The “Vertipools” shown below were designed by Artecology and will be used in the Ecostructure project to combat biodiversity loss from climate change and sea level rise. By collaboration with like-minded organisations, Ecostructure is able to maximise its positive impacts to all communities of interest.
Native species, however, are not the only beneficiaries of eco-egineering, as pointed out by Dr. Joe Ironside and Dr. Melanie Prentice, Ecostructure researchers from WP 4 ‘Non-native species and biosecurity.’ Artificial coastal structures act as bridges between habitat types, and allow non-native species to expand their ranges and propagate in previously unpopulated regions. Both Dr. Ironside and Dr. Prentice have been investigating how climate change and increased habitat connectivity are driving snail species like the Common Topshell (Phorcus lineatus) and Purple Topshell (Gibbula umbilicalis) northward. With the help of genetic analysis, the Ecostructure team will assess the viability of these immigrating populations, and therein their ability to persist in these new environments.
Annual Ecostructure Steering Committee and Project Meeting
The Ecostructure team at MaREI (University College Cork) were delighted to host the annual Steering Committee and Project Meeting. The meeting agenda was split over two days, with the first day being dedicated to catching up on project progress, informing and receiving feedback from the project steering committee and the second a dedicated meeting for project partners, to discuss project progress for the coming year and to develop communications and collaboration between project partners. Day 1 was held on the main college campus in Cork City while day 2 saw the project partners travel to the MaREI Centre in Ringaskiddy, affording them the opportunity to check out some of the world-class facilities on site.
The meeting was deemed very successful and has laid much of the groundwork for the coming year of Ecostructure activities and beyond, with lots of opportunities for researchers from across the project work packages to establish potential collaborations and cross-overs. For more details on our meeting, check out our Twitter feed!
Summer Fieldwork 2018
Several partners are involved in fieldwork activities for Ecostructure, with researchers from University College Dublin, Aberystwyth University and Bangor University often working together to achieve the maximum amount in the time allocated.
Much fieldwork has taken place over the past year across Ireland and Wales, with the amount expected to accelerate over the fine summer period, researchers showcased the collaborative effort between institutes and work packages during the course of the last project meeting, taking advantage of field trips to conduct research across several thematic areas including examining the ecological condition of existing coastal structures, building in ecologically sensitive design (trialling of new innovative concrete materials, research trials in adapting existing structures to be more ecologically sensitive, eco-engineering solutions), non-native species and biosecurity.
Elsewhere, researchers from University College Dublin involved in the WP5 activities for ‘Society, economy and governance’ have also been highly active in the field, engaging the public with Ecostructure research in different locations within the programme area. Public engagement is a central aspect of WP5, in the development of their Citizen Science platform, the Ecostructure Observatory, which is due for launch in the coming weeks, giving the public the opportunity to engage with and contribute to Ecostructure’s research.
Sampling biodiversity on artificial and natural shores on the Irish Sea, as part of WP2 research
WP5 fieldwork - engaging the public and stakeholders in the work of Ecostructure in Prestatyn, Wales
Fieldwork in Pretatyn, Wales
Fieldwork for WP4 on Malahide Marina
Diving off Malahide Marina collecting samples for WP4 E-DNA sampling
Fitting an alternative concrete material to the rocky shore in Morningston, Meath - these tiles are being tested to see which provides the best surface for the growth of ecological communities
Photo shows one of the trial concrete materials being tested on the Co. Meath coastline
Bangor researchers making the most of the fine weather to collect samples for WP4 research at Porth Dinllean
Aberystwyth University researchers sampling off a Cork Marina, finding the non-native Carpet Sea Squirt (Didemnum vexillum) growing on parts of the marina
Aberystwyth's Melanie Prentice sampling the rocky shore in Ringaskiddy
Europe Day is celebrated annually on the 9th of May as a way of celebrating peace and unity in Europe. Ecostructure researchers are using today to showcase the projects work so far at their respective institutions in Ireland and Wales, along with other projects made possible through funding from the European Union. Researchers from Aberystwyth University (AU) and University College Dublin (UCD) were particularly active in showcasing the work of the project to date, with public events held to give information on the project, including posters, interactive demonstrations, and a chance for the public to meet and speak with our researchers.
Ecostructure is part funded under the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland-Wales Cooperation Programme 2014-2020
Ecostructure researchers from Aberystwyth University (AU) and University College Dublin (UCD) have been busy over the past few weeks, taking advantage of the steadily improving weather to carry out fieldwork for the project. The two university teams collaborated on the first Ecostructure engineering experiment, which consisted of deploying experimental concrete tiles. The tiles are made from 9 different alternative concrete materials, designed and cast by Atteyeh Natanzi and Ciaran McNally from the UCD engineering team.
These tiles were attached to exposed and sheltered surfaces on a rocky breakwater at Mornington, Co. Meath on the east coast of Ireland. Over the next 12 months, our ecologists will continue to monitor the colonisation of the tiles to evaluate which of the concretes provide a better substrate for marine life than others. This research will inform which materials we will choose for further investigation in subsequent experiments next year.
Melanie Prentice from the genetics lab at Aberystwyth University also used to fieldwork time to search the breakwater and surrounding rocky shores for samples of our focal species for population genetics work. Dogwhelks and Nucella lapillus were easy pickings everywhere. Topshells, Phorcus lineatus and Gibbula umbilicalis required a more thorough search! The various streams of fieldwork will inform each other, as it will enable us to understand how artificial structures have affected their dispersal and population connectivity.
In Wales, the Ecostructure team in the University of Bangor continued their research into non-native species in relation to artificial structures on the Irish sea. Researchers were out deploying ‘settlement plates’ onto a Welsh Marina.
Over the summer, these plates will be reexamined to see how the native community of algae and animals affects the invasion rate – the number of new species who settle on the plates.
Researchers from University College Dublin continued the fieldwork on the Irish end, visiting Cork Harbour to carry out more fieldwork and mapping of artificial coastal structures. This fieldwork was made possible thanks to the assistance of the Port of Cork and the Irish Naval Service.
Sustainable Futures Workshop
Ecostructure researchers from the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, UCC and University College Dublin took part in the ‘Sustainable Futures’ Series at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh on March 6th, speaking on climate change implications for coastal communities, the role of eco-engineering in climate change adaptation, and to get feedback on the Ecostructure Observatory – our upcoming citizen science platform, which is in the final stages of development. Great insight, feedback and discussion from the community.
The Ecostructure team in Bangor University recently held a workshop for marina owners and operators from Ireland and Wales, aimed at understanding the sector’s priorities for non-native biosecurity. The workshop highlighted the variety and impact of non-native species for marina in the Irish sea, while briefing the stakeholders in attendance on restrictions, environmental regulation, legislation, advice and guidance, with sector experts providing context and using case studies of non-native invasive species. Pictured below is Siobhán Vye, Ecostructure researcher at Bangor University.
Visit from Welsh Cabinet Secretary
Ecostructure researchers in University College Dublin this week met with the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Finance Mark Drakeford, as part of his visit to Dublin on Wednesday February 21st. He took the opportunity while visiting UCD to hear about the EU Interreg Ireland Wales projects that the university is involved in, three projects in total – Ecostructure, Acclimatize and Calin. Pictured below L-R: John O’ Sullivan, Tasman Crowe, Orla Feeley (UCD Vice Principal for Research Innovation and Impact), Mark Drakeford, Paul Brooks, Aoife Corcoran and Atteyeh Natanzi.
Marinas and Biosecurity Workshop
Ecostructure partners in Bangor University will be hosting a free workshop for marina owners and operators on February 27th. The workshop will focus on understanding the sector’s priorities for non-native species biosecurity. For more information, email email@example.com.
ECOSTRUCTURE Christmas Newsletter
Our researchers have had a busy 2017! Read all about it here in our Christmas newsletter!
The Ecostructure team would like to wish you all a happy Christmas!
To keep up to date on the project, and learn more about Ecostructure , please click here to subscribe.
BBC and ECOSTRUCTURE
The work of the Ecostructure team at Aberystwyth University recently received some high-profile coverage, with a feature on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on October 25th.
BBC Environmental Analyst Roger Harrabin met with Dr. Pippa Moore to discuss the work of the team in making coastal structures more environmentally and ecologically friendly, in response to increasing climatic and other environmental stress factors.
Pippa took Roger to visit their project study-site at Twywn to record the segment, where holes have been drilled into conventional rock defences as part of a previous study, allowing for colonisation by a range of marine species, thus creating ‘Ecostructures’.
As well as the radio segment, a more comprehensive article was published on BBC News online. The article examines the project at Twywn in more depth, as well as discussing other aspects of the team’s work, such as the development of Reefcrete – an alternative form of concrete, designed to provide more environmental benefits, and the observed results. Both of these previous studies will be built upon by the Ecostructure project to see what else we can learn about their potential to enhance biodiversity.
You can listen back to the radio segment by following this link, and skipping forward to 2:50:00.
The news article is available here at BBC News Science and Environment online at this link, click to learn more!
ECOSTRUCTURE at the Centre for Alternative Technology
ECOSTRUCTURE teams from Aberystrwyth University and University College Dublin attended the Centre for Alternative Technology 2017 conference – 100 Good Ideas. Here they facilitated an audience led discussion and hands on workshop activities on improving the ecological value of sea defences, demonstrating, for example, the principles of drill-cored rock pools.
From the 28th-30th of August, EWTEC were present at the European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference, hosted this year in University College Cork, home of Ecostructure partners MaREI UCC. The conference was attended by over 500 experts across the fields of industry and academia, with a huge diversity of backgrounds and nationalities. The European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference (EWTEC) series are international technical and scientific conferences, focused on ocean renewable energy and widely respected for their commitment to maintain high standards of academic and industrial contributions.
On Friday the 31st, the ECOSTRUCTURE team from MaREI UCC were at the MARINCOMP symposium, held in the National Maritime College of Ireland, Ringaskiddy, which coincided with the end of EWTEC. The MARINCOMP international symposium’s theme was concerned with ‘Novel Composite Materials and Processes for Offshore Renewable Energy’, and was attended by over 60 experts in the field.
Dr. Peter Robins (Bangor), Dr. Ruth Callaway (Swansea), and Kathrin Kopke (UCC) at EWTEC 2017
Ecostructure in Aberystwyth Summer Uni Programme
In August 2017 marine ecologists working on Ecostructure were involved in Summer Uni activities at Aberystwyth University. Students on the Environmental Science course designed their own ‘Ecostructure’ interventions for marine/coastal developments and pitched their ideas as part of their Summer Uni assessment. The activities involved 10 students from around Wales, taking part in the programme designed to prepare them for higher education.
The aim of the activities involving the Ecostructure team was to give the students some foundation knowledge of marine ecology and conservation issues, and to get them working in groups in order to present ideas and scaled models to the class. An important part of this exercise was to show the students that science isn’t just about following scientific methods but that tackling real world conservation issues requires imagination and creativity and can be fun.
For more information, see: https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/widening-participation/schoolscolleges/summer-uni/
Check out the 5 minute video of the Reefcrete paper (ECOSTRUCTURE’s first publication). The publication can also be downloaded by clicking on the article below.
New ECOSTRUCTURE Publication
Reefcrete: Reducing the environmental footprint of concretes foreco-engineering marine structures.
Click the image below to access the publication.