BIOBLOCKs show how coastal designs could benefit marine life

A series of concrete blocks with a difference are appearing on the waterfront overlooking Plymouth Sound.

Five BIOBLOCKs have been deployed on the coastline at Teats Hill, close to the University of Plymouth’s Marine Station and the National Marine Aquarium (NMA).

Constructed by Brixham-based ARC Marine, they are designed to raise awareness of the potential benefits of artificial reefs in the marine environment.

Researchers at the University are involved in a number of schemes using designs different to the standard smooth concrete normally used in coastal infrastructure as a means of improving biodiversity along our coastline.

Now they are working with the NMA, ARC Marine and Plymouth City Council to incorporate some of those measures into the wider regeneration of the Teats Hill foreshore.

The BIOBLOCKs, funded by the Marine Institute thanks to Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF), are now in situ on the Teats Hill foreshore.

Each measuring a cubic metre and weighing around 2.4 tonnes, they feature a range of holes and depressions designed to replicate a rocky intertidal area. Normally, they would replace boulders in groynes, breakwaters and other rock armour structures, but have been specifically positioned by the slipways at Teats Hill so they can be observed by the public.

Dr Louise Firth, Lecturer in Marine Ecology at the University, is an internationally recognised researcher in the field of eco-engineering. She said:

“If you build a smooth, featureless seawall, marine life will not be able to live on it. But by incorporating grooves and other features you can make it more appealing and encourage creatures to colonise it. We have conducted a number of trials on the coastline around Plymouth, and this project is a great way to raise awareness about how coastal infrastructure can be designed not just to serve human needs, but to also make space for nature.”

Tom Birbeck from ARC Marine, who is based at the University’s Brixham Environmental Laboratory, said:

“ARC Marine are thrilled to be working with local partners to deliver this marine habitat project. Plymouth is known as Britain’s Oceans City, which fits perfectly with the conservation benefits these marine structures bring. Hopefully these are the first of many habitats to be deployed off Plymouth.”

To coincide with the installation, a temporary exhibition - also funded by the Marine Institute - has now been opened in the National Marine Aquarium. It features a scaled down version of the blocks and information on how artificial reefs could potentially work.

The exhibition will also feature ARC Marine’s interlocking modular Reef Cubes, a newly patented invention being developed in the University's COAST Laboratory thanks to support from Marine-i, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Liz Cole, Discovery and Learning Officer at the NMA, said:

“It is great to be involved with this local project to help promote pro-ocean behaviour. Here at the NMA, we are passionate about connecting people with the ocean in an inspiring way. Supporting BIOBLOCKs and Reef Cubes, and helping to explain to our visitors how they can help the marine environment, is a great way to raise awareness about marine conservation, and the different ways they can get involved.”

Councillor Sue Dann, Cabinet Member for Environment and Street Scene at Plymouth City Council, added:

“It was a privilege for the Council to work with its partners on this fascinating project. This city has an international reputation for marine science and technology and we will continue to support pioneering schemes like this as we strive to have Plymouth Sound designated as the country’s first National Marine Park.”

The Marine Eco-engineering Research Unit

The proliferation of artificial structures in the marine environment is a global environmental problem, as humans are replacing natural habitats with hard artificial structures that are typically poor for marine life.

Find out more about our work to address this issue

A new wave of innovation

The University of Plymouth is proud to be a partner on Marine-i, designed to help the marine technology sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly grow through research, development and innovation.

Over the next 20 years, marine technology will be transformed as a new wave of innovation allows us to exploit the full potential of our oceans in ways that were previously not possible. Bringing these new technologies to market will demand new ways of thinking and Marine-i will be pivotal in ensuring new levels of collaboration across different scientific and technical disciplines.

Visit the Marine-i website

Marine-i is part funded up to £6.8 million from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-20. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for ERDF.