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Sea the change: study technology + oceans

Living Seawalls

By mixing marine science with clever tech, Macquarie University is helping sea life to survive

If you’ve ever taken a stroll along the beach or around a harbour, you’ve probably seen seawalls. They help protect shorelines from storm surges and erosion, but can negatively impact marine environments. Enter Living Seawalls, which installs panels onto these structures to create microhabitats for marine life including seaweeds, shellfish and other creatures, and helps protect them from high temperatures and predators.

So how much tech is involved in this work? Lots, according to Macquarie University’s Professor Melanie Bishop and Associate Professor Katherine Dafforn, co-leaders of Living Seawalls.

“Living Seawalls panels are computer designed, with prototypes initially fabricated using 3D printing,” Melanie explains. “Panels of 10 different designs, mimicking the features of nature, are then cast using a moulding process from eco-blend cement.”

RELATED: STEM + Oceansdo you love the deep blue sea? Want to work with underwater drones or help protect marine life? Here you’ll find study paths, employers and careers as vast as the ocean itself.

The project also relies on tech for monitoring and evaluation – temperature loggers tell them about the cool microclimates created by the panels, and oxygen probes reveal how the ecological communities on seawalls are modifying ecosystem functions.

“I use water quality probes to investigate changes in water chemistry around our installations,” Katherine adds. “I also use microscopes to survey marine life growing on Living Seawalls and I sample environmental DNA for sequencing, which tells me more about the kinds of bacteria and other microbes on Living Seawalls.”

The team’s research in Sydney Harbour has shown that after one to two years, Living Seawalls support at least 36% more species than unmodified seawalls, with as many as 85 species of invertebrates, seaweeds and fish living and growing on the panels. What a win!

Keen on a technology + oceans path?

Melanie and Katherine share their top tips!

“Maths and all sciences can come in handy, especially if you want to keep your options open. Also, you don’t need to be able to dive or even necessarily swim to be a marine scientist – plenty of work is done from the land or from boats.” – Melanie

“Go for it! The world is experiencing significant environmental change and we need more people who are passionate about environmental science to inform how we manage and respond to that change, to protect the Earth for future generations.” – Katherine

This article was brought to you in partnership with Macquarie University and first appeared in Careers with STEM: Technology 2023.

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