Mangrove Reef Walls
SUMMARY: This project is a strategy for transforming urban waterfronts into thriving tidal habitats that simultaneously improve the marine environment and respond to human quality of life factors. We aim to capitalize on a well-placed intervention of flexible formwork within conventional casting process to emulate complex habitat structure of tidal ecosystems.
PROBLEM SPACE: “Perhaps the greatest challenge to humanity is to sustainably manage human dominated ecosystems. Over half the world population now lives on or near coastlines, putting immense pressure on some of the most ecologically fragile systems on the planet. These coastal zones underpin the marine biome by providing nursery habitat, hunting grounds, and a complex web of food exchange that humans and other species depend on in all parts of the world. Tidal ecosystems and their associated ecological services are being lost at rates that exceed the tropical rainforests.
Human development along waterways is mostly exclusive of natural systems. Florida alone has over 11,000 miles of waterways, much of which is lined with concrete seawalls that eliminate shellfish, fish and other species. The critical link that transitions from terrestrial zone to marine environment has been broken, and the result has been unmitigated runoff, severed nutrient cycle and undermining of coastal fish stocks through loss of habitat.
The seawall as a harsh barrier between human and natural environments and the subsequent degradation of the natural side is indicative of the larger challenge to designers, engineers, scientists and others. How might we create structures and materials that foster life rather than degrade it?”
SOLUTION: “Mangrove Reef Walls are integrally cast within seawalls to create tidal habitat along urbanized waterfronts. Flexible mold inserts create rugose surface features with full relief pockets and tunnels as an add-in to existing seawall fabrication processes. The digitally-developed mangrove-oyster geometry maximizes surface texture – increased by over 300% to promote adherence, growth and hiding areas for numerous species.
Reef Walls provide conditions for the emergence of what are known as foundation species – oysters, sponges and others that outcompete invasive species and are primary contributors to ecological productivity in tidal areas. These species are targeted by utilizing field knowledge on mangrove and oyster systems in the design of panel geometry to create conditions shown to be preferred by the foundation species.
Lastly, the Reef Wall panels capitalize on the erosion mitigation and wave attenuation properties of mangroves to enhance stability and prolong lifespan of seawalls.
Our Reef Wall system provides an alternative solution to the seawall problem that recaptures a portion of ecological productivity within constraints of existing regulations. It is a stepping stone towards engineered-living systems that regenerate the environment and promote human well-being. We anticipate this system will integrate pollution-absorbing materials and nutrient balancing chemistry in successive generations.”
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