School children looking at artificial rockpools at Wightlink's Fishbourne port on Isle of Wight

Artificial rockpools that are boosting biodiversity

Generations of children have enjoyed finding out more about marine life by investigating what kind of creatures live in seaside rockpools, uncovered twice-daily by the tide.

Now, environmentalists believe a different kind of rockpool – textured concrete basins fixed to harbours, piers, seawalls and other structures – can help improve biodiversity around our coastline. These artificial rockpools fitted on vertical walls, known as Vertipools™, quickly get covered with seaweed, then become home for all kinds of marine creatures, including crabs, limpets and barnacles.

Wightlink has been one of the first companies to get involved with this exciting development. We installed an array of six Vertipools™ on an external harbour wall at our Fishbourne port in 2017. They were invented by Nigel George from Artecology, the Island ecological engineering specialists at Arc, who installed the very first pools at Bouldnor, near Yarmouth in 2013.

Nigel George modelling the Artecology Vertipools with ants

Vertipools have been designed to meet the global challenge of coastal development as sealevels rise. Nigel explains, “These 21st century rockpools offer a rapid-response solution for the marine built environment, boosting biodiversity, increasing business and public engagement with the natural world and encounters with wildlife.

These innovative ecological designs and materials can be retrofitted but also integrated into new structures. Vertipools are the only commercially available built environment solution of their kind and have been used to support government projects, major planning and infrastructure developments and international research collaborations. We are proud that our designs have contributed to the Island’s successful application to become a UNESCO Biosphere.’’

Vertipools are already deployed around the coast of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as on the coastline of Normandy, in France and in Gibraltar; they are also currently specified for major sea defence works in New Zealand. In Wales, an array of 100 Vertipools will form part of one of the world’s largest eco-engineering pilot.

A cross-discipline innovation mixing art, engineering and ecology, the effectiveness of Vertipools have been proven after a seven years’ research collaboration with Bournemouth University. Experts from Artecology and researchers at Bournemouth University have monitored the Fishbourne Vertipools. A survey in June 2018 found 29 different species living inside them.

“Most coastal structures are not built with nature in mind. It is possible to find marine life growing on smooth concrete harbours and sea walls, but it is much less biodiverse than the marine life you can find on a natural rocky shoreline. Vertipools have different surface textures so valuable habitats can be created,” explains Jessica Bone, marine scientist at Bournemouth University. “Marine creatures that live in the intertidal zone, the area between low tide and high tide, are increasingly threatened as sea levels rise with climate change and Vertipools can make a difference.” She is part of a team, led by Professor Roger Herbert, which is involved in the Marineff international research project working on new ways to make cross-channel coastal waters more sustainable for marine life. Forty-five Marineff Vertipools have been installed near Yarmouth on the Island and have provided habitat for 35 marine species.

Wightlink's ferry Victoria of Wight approaches Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight

Wightlink is committed to protecting the Solent’s beautiful natural environment. Our £30million flagship Victoria of Wight is the first hybrid energy ferry in England and we have pledged to cut emissions and minimise waste with our Green Agenda.

Local schoolchildren have already enjoyed hands-on marine biology lessons by visiting our Vertipools by boat at low tide to see what kind of creatures are living inside. More initiatives are planned in future.

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