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Saving marine life with flowerpots

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on November 9th, 2009

Source: The Ecologist

Image: British Ecological Society

From “How to save marine life… with flowerpots” by Emma Bocking, 27th October, 2009

Although sea walls are a strong form of coastal defence they effectively wipe out rock pools which are important oases for marine life. Scientists in Sydney have found a solution involving flower pots…  As anyone who has ever been rockpooling before knows, these little pools of seawater can be a haven for marine life.  But when a natural shoreline is replaced with a vertical seawall, the gently sloping foreshore, along with its rockpools, vanishes.

Without rock pools the number and diversity of animals and plants species in the intertidal area plummets.  Two ecologists at the University of Sydney, Dr Mark Browne and Prof. Gee Chapman have come up with a solutions that is so simple you wonder it hasn’t been done before – flower pot pools.

It was Gee Chapman’s idea to use flowerpots as replacement tidal pools. When attached to existing sea walls, the receding high-tide causes water to collect inside the pots during periods of low tide and gives organisms like molluscs and starfish a habitat similar to naturally occurring rock pools.  The flowerpots themselves are very durable and built from a custom mould, in two different sizes.  Once a supplier was secured and the flowerpots prepared, Browne and Chapman were able to install 80-90 pots in a matter of days. Ten months on and the flowerpots appear to be holding up admirably to the rigours of Sydney Harbour.

Browne and Chapman’s work falls under the category of ‘ecological engineering.’ Browne explains: ‘We’re not trying to restore [the natural intertidal habitats]. The only way to do that is to rip out the wall, which is not realistic or practical.  ‘Instead we’re trying to rehabilitate these areas. While all engineering projects must take into account structural and aesthetic qualities, our projects are novel as we are seeking to add ecological criteria as a third pillar.’

This greener form of engineering has been around for a while in terrestrial environments – just think of green roofs – but has yet to be fully explored in the marine context. This flowerpot installation is a pioneer in the field.

If you live in a coastal community and are concerned with the ecological impact of its sea walls, Browne suggests that you talk to his research team and lobby your local council to try flower pots. He emphasises that sea walls are not safe places for people to start attaching flowerpots without permission.  This could, however, be a great opportunity to build a dialogue between council-members, ecologists, engineers and and the people in your community. Browne believes that the flowerpot installation is easily adaptable with careful local planning and wants to see the idea spread beyond Australia.

Read the full article by Emma Bocking.

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