Living Seawalls is investigating ways in which existing seawalls can be modified into ecologically
friendly structures. A major collaborative program, Living Seawalls involves researchers from SIMS, Macquarie University, and the University of NSW, together with local and state government, philanthropic, corporate and design partners.
Seawalls are the dominant feature of many urbanised NSW coasts and their relatively
flat, featureless surfaces typically support lower biodiversity compared to the natural habitats they replace. Previous ecological research has shown the biodiversity of existing seawalls
can be enhanced by increasing their intertidal surface area and the diversity of microhabitats that they
In late 2015, an experiment was conducted as part of the World Harbour Project, a flagship SIMS program, to determine whether adding tiles that contained complex
microhabitats and were seeded with habitat-forming oysters could enhance the biodiversity of seawalls in
Sydney Harbour. Complex tiles provided protective habitat that resulted in higher seeded oyster survival and supported more invertebrate and algal species than flat tiles. Results from this
study suggest that retrofitting existing seawalls with habitat-enhancing tiles or “greening seawalls” in
Sydney Harbour will have benefits to local marine communities.
The tiles designed by Reef Design Lab mimic features on the closest natural
analogue of seawalls, rocky shores, and are designed to enhance biodiversity and provision of important
ecosystem services such as the maintenance of clean water and fisheries productivity. We expect the
seawalls with tiles will support greater abundances of invertebrates such as oysters, limpets, snails,
anemones, sea stars, kelp and other habitat-forming algae, and at high tide, fish.
In October 2018, extensive Living Seawalls have been installed at two sites in North Sydney. A Volvo Living Seawalls initiative was launched at Milsons Point, while a further Living Seawall was installed at Sawmillers Reserve.
construction in the marine environment is predicted to increase in response to
the ever-growing coastal population, growing demand of new sources of energy
and the expected impacts of climate change. This creates an urgent need for the
development of innovative, sustainable and versatile designs that can be
applied over large areas of urban shorelines. The introduction of these
large-scale installations will provide the research and development that will
allow for the potential implementation of Living Seawalls in coastal cities
across Australia and even globally.
Leadership Team Assoc. Professor Melanie Bishop, Dr. Katie Dafforn, Dr. Mariana Mayer-Pinto, Dr. Maria Vozzo
SIMS would like to acknowledge the generous financial support provided for this project from:
The project has also significantly benefited from the generous in-kind support provided by: