Lynette’s Sea Wall project in the news (Straits Times)

Turning sea walls into ‘housing’ units for marine life
by Jose Hong. The Straits Times, 05 Jun 2012.

SEA walls defend the coast from erosion by waves and currents, but they are also potentially ‘housing developments’ for marine creatures.

These ‘housing developments’, however, are not ideal habitats. This is because the granite blocks making up these sea walls have steeply sloped, even surfaces – not the best for sea life looking for crevices to anchor themselves, feed, breed, or hide.

Research assistant Lynette Loke, a 24-year-old doing her master’s in science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), wants to change that.

Turning sea walls into 'housing' units for marine life
Ms Loke in the middle of mounting specially designed tiles onto sea walls at Pulau Hantu as part of her project in 2009. Designed and created by her, the tiles have ridges and pits which make them a more complex surface than granite for sea life looking for crevices to anchor themselves, feed, breed, or hide. Photo: Peter Todd

Her project now basically ‘renovates’ the sea walls by mounting specially designed tiles onto their surface. Designed and created by her, these tiles are moulded with ridges and pits, making them a more complex surface than just granite alone.

She has been at this for 21/2 years, and will complete an analysis of the effectiveness of the tiles only next year.

But her project has already garnered international praise.

Professor Gee Chapman, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Sydney, was impressed by the project when she visited NUS in March.

She said the research would answer important questions about how plant and animal species that live between the high- and low-tide levels use their habitats.

‘More importantly, the results will provide advice to ecologists, engineers and environmental managers worldwide about ways in which sea walls might be modified or built to reduce their negative effects on local inter-tidal biodiversity,’ she added.

Dr James Reimer, an associate professor at the Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Lab of the University of the Ryukyus in Japan, has also come to hear of Ms Loke’s work.

Saying the project fit well with his work of assessing the impact of coastal construction on marine biodiversity, he invited the principal investigator of the project, NUS assistant professor of biology Peter Todd, to give a talk on the project in April.

Dr Reimer, noting the talk was well-received, said: ‘We’re discussing ways to apply their methods to a project here in Okinawa.’

Dr Tjeerd Bouma, a co-principal investigator for Ms Loke’s project, noted that sea walls have been built for decades with little thought to their impact on marine life. Dr Bouma,who is a researcher from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Deltares, said learning how to design these walls in the most ecologically friendly way was therefore important.

Ms Loke cannot agree more, adding: ‘We hope one day to see our design on seawalls around the world.’

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