Concrete Shore Protectors Mimic Mangroves

Concrete Shore Protectors Mimic Mangroves

The jumbled roots of mangrove trees buffer tropical shorelines from storms and erosion by slowing waves and capturing sediment. They provide habitat for diverse marine life as well, and for these reasons, they were an inspiration to this year’s top winner of the Ray of Hope Prize — ECOncrete, a Tel Aviv-based company that designs and creates innovative concrete structures for seawalls and other coastal projects that mimic local marine ecosystems.

With over 50 percent of the world’s population concentrated on the coasts, natural ecosystems are severely stressed. Sea-level rise and extreme weather events are driving an urgent need for the development or retrofit of seawalls and other structures, and ECOncrete’s ecologically sensitive materials are well-positioned to tap into this multibillion-dollar market.

"Communities around the world are facing serious flooding challenges, and ECOncrete has demonstrated it can provide greater biological value when armored sea walls are necessary," said Deron Davis, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Georgia and a judge for this year’s competition, in a press release.

A marine biologist, ECOncrete CEO and Chief Scientist Shimrit Perkol-Finkel grew interested in creating more environmentally friendly marine infrastructure through decades of studying artificial reefs. Diving in 30 countries around the world, she was disturbed to see how concrete structures harm marine ecosystems, even after decades in the water. Concrete’s harsh chemical composition and smooth, featureless surface impede native marine life and actually create the conditions for invasive species to thrive, Perkol-Finkel told GreenBiz in an interview.

Teaming up with another marine biologist, Ido Stella, she set out to study concrete and look for ways to manipulate it at the material, surface complexity and 3D design levels to make it more welcoming to a wider array of organisms.

"We looked at skeletons of coral and oysters’ shells; they’re very rugged and are natural inducers for further biological recruitment," Perkol-Finkel said. "We wanted to mimic that more effectively, [rather] than making design features that are completely foreign to the marine environment." At the macro, 3D level, designing for actual habitats and niches, they looked at mangrove roots.