Ecological enhancement of coastal engineering structures: Passive enhancement techniques

Mairi Macarthur, Larissa A. Naylor, Jim D. Hansom, Michael T. Burrows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
148 Downloads (Pure)


The rock type used in coastal engineering structures impacts biodiversity, but its effect has been understudied to date. We report here on whether different combinations of rock material and rock mass properties can improve habitat suitability and early phase ecological outcomes on coastal engineering structures. We examine two coastal engineering schemes that used different granites during construction. At site one, Shap granite boulders with a high number of cm-dm2 surface features (e.g. ledges) were deliberately positioned during construction (called passive enhancement), to a) maximise the provision of cm-dm scale intertidal habitat and b) determine which scale of habitat is best for ecological enhancement. At site two, Norwegian granite boulders were installed without passive enhancement, allowing for a direct comparison. Passive positioning of Shap granite boulders led to an increase in limpet (Patella vulgata, Linnaeus, 1758) abundance within two years but few limpets were recorded on the non-enhanced Norwegian granite. Positioning of boulder thus exerts a strong control on the mm and mm-dm scale geomorphic features present, with clear ecological benefits when suitable features are selected for and optimally positioned (i.e. passive enhancement) to maximise habitat features. An EcoRock scoring matrix was developed to aid in the selection of the most ecologically suitable rock materials for coastal engineering worldwide; this can help improve habitat provision on engineered structures in a rapidly warming world.
Original languageEnglish
Article number139981
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date6 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


  • Ecological enhancement
  • Rock armour
  • Coastal engineering
  • Habitat creation
  • Passive enhancement
  • Biogeomorphology


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