In sight of Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge, marine scientist Mariana Mayer Pinto gingerly steps into the dark waters to examine a seawall covered with hexagonal concrete panels marked with divots that are thronged with kelp, seaweed and barnacles.
About 50 percent of the natural shore of the harbor has been transformed by seawalls and pilings, which do not support biodiversity the same way a natural coastline.
Sydney’s Institute of Marine Science, with the help of scientists from the University of New South Wales and Macquarie University, have crafted a solution using three-dimensional concrete panels in what they call the “Living Seawalls” project.
Specifically designed panels can be retrofitted onto existing seawalls, simulating the natural shoreline ecosystem that provides habitats for organisms such fish, algae and invertebrates that flat seawalls cannot.
“We have seen a total of more than 90 species colonizing these diverse panels and we see 30 to 40 percent more species on the panels in the living seawalls then on the unmodified parts of the seawall,” said project coleader Mayer Pinto, a professor at the University of New South Wales.
In just several months, the panels are colonized by marine life, and since many of the organisms are filter feeders such as oysters and barnacles, the water quality of the harbor improves, Mayer Pinto said.
Popular in Australia, the panels have also been installed in Wales and Singapore.
The project has also been selected as one of 15 finalists for the Earthshot Prize by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Mayer Pinto said that she hopes new coastal structures would be ecologically sustainable, designed not only for humans, but also for nature.
“I grew up on the ocean, the ocean’s my happy place, so I really want my kids to be able to enjoy the ocean as I did growing up and for that we really need to take a bit more care of it,” she said.
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