Coastal zones are where some of the most obvious types of biogeomorphological landforms and processes are found. Biogenic habitats such as eye-catching coral, serpulid and worm reefs; mangrove forests and saltmarshes are constructed and crusts of rocky shore species like barnacles, oysters and mussels grow at the coast. These species also serve a bioprotective function, where they buffer waves or trap sediment. Many species are busy grazing for food or drilling into rocks to make their homes, bioeroding the rocks and shaping the shore at the same time.
Biogeomorphologists have an interest in understanding how biogeomorphic species interact with their landscape to create, alter and sustain landforms from a range of external forces such as waves, thermal expansion and contraction, wetting and drying, and the action of salts. These organisms can increase (i.e. bioeroders) or decrease (e.g. bioprotectors) the rates of other important weathering processes – it is these interactions that shape, modify and sustain coastal landforms. Research often involves a combination of field trials, laboratory experiments and microscopy.
Coastal biogeomorphology researchers often help solve real-world problems. They do this by:
- Identifying the bioprotective value of species. Saltmarshes provide a buffer against waves which means that seawalls behind them don’t have to be as big which costs less. Coastal managers now take this into account when designing new coastal defence structures.
- There is a growing requirement for coastal managers to work with natural processes when managing soft coasts at risk of erosion. Biogeomorphologists often help do this as part of saltmarsh or mangrove restoration programmes.
- New research is demonstrating that biogeomorphological science can be used to help ecologically enhance hard coastal structures. This is showing that you can (a) engineer structures to increase the rate of colonisation and (b) that some species protect the coastal infrastructure from deterioration.