Dublin Port Company and University College Dublin collaborate on world-first eco-engineering initiative

Fish Habitats Deployed Along Iconic Great South Wall

by Alison O'Hanlon
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Dublin Port Company (DPC), in collaboration with University College Dublin (UCD), proudly announces a groundbreaking initiative aimed at enhancing biodiversity along the Great South Wall.

This innovative project marks a significant milestone in the realm of eco-engineering, setting a new standard for sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Artificial structures such as seawalls and rock armour have long served as crucial protective measures for ports, harbours, and marinas worldwide. However, conventional man-made structures often lack the biodiversity found in natural rocky shores, presenting challenges for marine ecosystems. Recognising this gap, UCD researchers partnered with Dublin Port Company to pioneer a solution that merges ecological principles with engineering expertise.

Jennifer Coughlan of the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science at the deployment of habitat units along the Great South Wall.

At the heart of this initiative lies the deployment of large habitat units along the Great South Wall, a strategic location chosen for its potential to foster marine life. The utilisation of a natural topography design sourced from a shoreline in Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork on habitat units of this size distinguishes these as a world-first in eco-engineering.

The design of these habitat units draws from a comprehensive study conducted as part of the Ecostructure project, in which Dublin Port played a pivotal role on the stakeholder steering committee. The study encompassed 32 natural rocky shores and 32 artificial shoreline sites across Ireland and Wales, evaluating both biological diversity and physical topography. Leveraging advanced techniques such as photogrammetry, the project team crafted 3D models to inform the development of engineering-standard habitat units and wall panels.

Eamon McElroy, Port Engineer at Dublin Port Company (second from right) with Caoimhe Morris (left), Dr. Paul Brooks (second from left) and Jennifer Coughlan (right) of the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science.

Crucially, these habitat units integrate natural topography into eco-friendly concrete, reducing carbon footprint while maximizing biodiversity potential. Collaborating with industry partners CubEX and MODULAR Cubed, the project exemplifies a synergy between academic research and practical application.

Over the next two years, UCD researchers will conduct comprehensive monitoring to assess the efficacy of these habitat units in enhancing marine biodiversity. By studying a diverse array of species, including invertebrates and fish, the project aims to unlock valuable insights into the benefits of large-scale eco-engineering approaches.

At nearly 5km long, the Great South Wall was the longest seawall in the world when it was completed in 1795 after construction began in the 1720s. Though that title has since been taken by a seawall in South Korea, the Great South Wall remains one of the longest in Europe.

Dr Paul Brooks, UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, commented “This represents a significant step forward in our understanding of eco-engineering concepts. By incorporating natural topographies into artificial structures, we have the potential to mitigate environmental impacts while promoting ecological resilience along the Great South Wall.

Habitat units deployed at the Great South Wall as part of UCD’s Ecostructure project.

“This project has been seven years in the making and Dublin Port Company have been with us every step of the way. The result you can now see along the Great South Wall is a world-first and we’re very excited to see it finally come to the fore. It would not be possible without the collaboration with Dublin Port, and we hope that continues long into the future.”

Eamon McElroy, DPC Port Engineer, added “Dublin Port is an extremely busy port, we have 8,000 ship arrivals every year, and as such, we must take great responsibility in looking after the environment around us. It is our policy to manage our obligations to the environment in a responsible manner and to take a sustainable approach to developing the port’s business.

“This project with UCD has been long in the making. The deployment of fish habitats along the Great South Wall, an iconic Dublin landmark, aims to enhance the biodiversity within the port estate itself. Through our joint efforts with UCD, we reaffirm our commitment to sustainable development and the preservation of marine ecosystems.”

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