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Marine Life & Conservation

Sea wall ‘eco-engineering’ can help boost biodiversity



Slight modifications to sea defences – at little or no extra cost – can boost the level of biodiversity found in intertidal zones, a study has shown.

Researchers found that attaching artificial rock pools to the structures created habitats suitable for mobile creatures, such as starfish or crabs.

They added that they hoped the results would encourage future designs to incorporate “ecological engineering”.

The findings have been published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series journal.

“When we looked into the economics, more than 80% of money that is spent to protect coastlines from climatic changes is spent building new sea walls, increasing the height, stability and length of existing ones,” explained co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist based at the US-based National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

“This is because we want to protect human lives and we also want to protect the important infrastructure.”

“But when we looked at how those seawalls were being built, they were being built according to engineering and financial criteria, not really on their capacity to support marine life.”

Dr Browne, who was based at the University of Sydney for the research, said colleague and co-author Prof Gee Chapman had spent many years examining how plants and animals found in the intertidal area of shorelines were affected by engineering.

“The overwhelming evidence she had was that there were major differences between the types of organisms that you find on seawalls compared with those on natural shorelines,” he said.

“One of the major differences was the absence of mobile organisms – such as limpets, starfish and crabs.”

So the researchers set up an experiment to find out why this was the case and what could be done to mitigate the impact of the structures.

Previous studies had shown that when artificial shorelines replaced the natural ones, there was usually a change of species locally as sedimentary habitat was replaced with hard materials.

“Although many native species live on the hard substratum, they are not usually the same species that live in or on soft substratum,” they wrote.

They suggested that the changes to the composition of organisms living on or near the structure may be the result of the steep sides of the sea defences, limiting the intertidal area available to species.

“Alternatively, the walls may lack important intertidal habitats microhabitats,” they added. “The most obvious are rock pools.”

In order to test the idea whether simple additions to otherwise featureless sea walls in Sydney Harbour would make the structures more biodiversity friendly, the researchers installed a number of large, concrete flowerpots to create artificial rock pools.

They observed: “The size of the pot, its height on the wall and its location affected the assemblages that developed, with greater abundances and diversity of organisms in shallower pots and those at mid-shore levels.”

Dr Browne explained: “We have shown quite clearly that you are able to improve levels of biodiversity by more than 110% and the size of the pot and the location it is situated matters.

“If we are going to be spending more than US $144bn each year to build new [flood defences] or increase the height or stability of existing ones and 80% of those funds on coastal defences, we really need to be starting to think about how we can put these types of ecological engineering approaches into practice.

“The measures can be added to the work with little or no additional cost without diminishing the integrity of the structure.”



Marine Life & Conservation

Join us in supporting Dive Project Cornwall Crowdfunder Project



Do you have a moment to help protect our oceans?

We’re on a mission and have partnered with DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL to help protect our oceans for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL is a unique EDUCATION and EXPERIENCE initiative, reaching over 3,000 schools with their Ocean Education Programme, inspiring the next generation to protect our oceans for everyone to cherish and enjoy.

At the heart of the project is a competition for 400 lucky teenagers to win the EXPERIENCE of a lifetime. They will take the learning from the classroom straight to the shores of Porthkerris on a 6-day, life changing trip where they will learn to scuba dive and be taught the importance of marine conservation. They will become ‘Ocean Influencers’ for the future.


Can you join us with a gift to DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL?

Whether it’s £5 or £50, a gift from you to the DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL Crowdfunder Project will help their vision of protecting our oceans through the innovative experience designed for school children.

Will you join us and pledge to support 400 lucky teenagers learn from and EXPERIENCE the ocean like never before and give them an EDUCATION they can use to inspire others, not forgetting the memories that will last a lifetime?

For more information, you can read the DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL story HERE.

Help us create the next generation of Ocean Influencers with a donation to DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL and ensure our oceans (and planet) are protected for the future.


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Marine Life & Conservation

Spring jellyfish blooms bring turtles to UK shores



Marine Conservation Society’s wildlife sightings project asks beachgoers to share their discoveries and contribute to research

The Marine Conservation Society’s long-running wildlife sightings project focuses on two key species which arrive on UK shores: jellyfish and, as a result, turtles. Both species are vital in supporting ocean biodiversity and are indicators of climate change while being at risk from its impacts.

The charity is asking beach and seagoers to share when they spot either of these marine animals to support ongoing research.

During spring and summer, jellyfish arrive in the UK’s warming waters to feed on plankton blooms or, in fact, anything small enough to get caught. To that extent, jellyfish feed not only on plankton, but also the array of eggs and larvae of fish, crustaceans, starfish and molluscs which rely on plankton as a stage of reproduction.

With healthy fish stocks and rich biodiversity, jellyfish quickly become part of an effective food chain. Everything from tuna to turtles will feed on jellyfish of various sizes, so the population is well controlled. Supported by a rich and diverse ocean ecosystem, jellyfish link the microscopic world of plankton to larger marine animals and the ocean around them.

Jellyfish are especially appealing for marine turtles. Six of the world’s seven marine turtle species have been spotted in UK seas as a result of jellyfish blooms in spring and summer.

The largest sea turtle, and the most common in UK seas, is the leatherback which has a ‘vulnerable’ conservation status. Reporting sightings of these incredible creatures will support the Marine Conservation Society and others in understanding their movements, potential threats and how to better protect them.

Amy Pilsbury, Citizen Science Project Lead at the Marine Conservation Society, said:“For more than 17 years, beachgoers across the UK have been contributing to scientific research by sharing their wildlife sightings with us. It’s a key part of our work and plays a vital role in better understanding and protecting our ocean.”

In 2014, with partners from the University of Exeter, the Marine Conservation Society published the first paper from the survey data, confirming key information about UK jellyfish and including the first distribution maps of the surveyed species.

Since the 2014 paper, the wildlife sightings project has recorded notable events such as massive and extensive annual blooms of barrel jellyfish and several summers of Portuguese Man o’ War mass strandings.

The charity continues to run its wildlife sightings project to see what happens to the distribution and frequency of mass jellyfish blooms over time. The data will help to explore any links jellyfish blooms have with big-picture factors such as climate change.

Jellyfish can be spotted year-round in UK seas, but larger blooms are more likely to appear in spring, lasting through until autumn. Jellyfish sighting records from 2021 suggest that compass jellyfish are the most common around UK shores, making up 36% of reported sightings.

Jellyfish species Percentage of sightings reported
Compass jellyfish 36%
Moon jellyfish 17%
Lion’s mane jellyfish 15%
Barrel jellyfish 14%
Blue jellyfish 9%
Portuguese Man o’ War 6%
Mauve stinger 2%
By the wind sailor 1%

For more information on how to identify jellyfish and turtles, and to report a sighting, please visit the Marine Conservation Society’s website.

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