Our Research

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is funded a two-year research project (2011–2013) to examine the bioprotective roles of organisms on coastal rocks and artificial structures. The research evaluated the influence of intertidal species on near-surface weathering conditions, and support measures for ecological enhancement (see here for details on ecological enhancement). The project highlighted interactions between intertidal animals and plants and the materials they colonise, including bioprotective interactions. These processes are important not only for geomorphology (the development of landforms and landscapes), but for ecology, engineering, and coastal management.

Monitoring and experimental work

A series of field sites were established in the South West of England where we had access to structures already colonised by organisms.We wanted to know how common organisms like seaweed (i.e., fucoid algae) influence factors we already know are important in weathering (e.g., temperature, moisture, salt). Micro-climatic conditions (temperature, humidity and moisture content) at the surface of these structures were compared to areas cleared of growth.

In the laboratory, we are used an environmental chamber to measure the influence of encrusting organisms like barnacles on temperatures within the materials they grow on. We want to know how a cover of barnacles influences the way materials heat up and dry out in the sun, at low tide. We will also look at colonised materials under the microscope to see how organisms interact with the surface, and how they alter the efficiency of salt weathering.

Dissemination and outreach

We are committed to promoting this research to end-users and stakeholders, including engineers, harbour owners, conservation groups, government agencies and the general public. As well as dissemination through academic publications and conferences, we have produced a new field guide and supporting online materials (in collaboration with the Marine Biological Association of the UK) and held engagement events to highlight the value and practical outcomes of the work. Even though the project has now finished, will continue to use this website to keep everyone involved up-to-date with our continued outputs on this topic. Please get in touch with us if you’d like us to come and talk about our research.