Worlds largest fish port revitalises marine ecosystems

A school of fish captured in the Port of Vigo. Image: Living Ports Project

A thriving marine ecosystem has been created in a busy fishing port after only four months, using specially designed eco-concrete landscaping.

The installation of the eco features in the Port of Vigo, on Spain's north-west coast, has significantly reduced the ecological footprint of the port, providing a biodiversity boost. The collaborative Living Ports Project has now released monitoring data revealing thriving ecosystems when compared with standard marine structures.

The port has also opened a first-of-its-kind underwater observatory, enabling the public the see the rich marine life for themselves. Species making there home there include green and brown algae, barnacles, crabs, limpets, worms, sea cucumbers, snails, starfish and tunicates.

The eco-concrete landscape, from marine construction company ECOncrete, features a 330m² sea wall, 100 coastal armour units and five bio-enhanced moorings.​

"The undersea images are more evidence of the ECOncrete ability to attract and foster marine biodiversity."

Ido Sella, ECOncrete

ECOncrete chief executive and co-founder Dr Ido Sella says, “The new monitoring and underwater camera footage is incredible. In just four short months, the Living Ports Project at the Port of Vigo has become exactly that – a living port, teeming with healthy marine life.

“The undersea images are more evidence of the ECOncrete ability to attract and foster marine biodiversity and support vibrant ecosystems in working waterfronts.”

Vigo is the world's largest fishing port, unloading almost a million tonnes of fish each year. However globally, 70% of marine infrastructure is concrete-based and not habitable for many types of marine organisms; it also requires around €2.2 trillion of maintenance per year.

ECOncrete changes the chemical composition of concrete to promote the growth of organisms like oysters, corals, or barnacles, which act as biological glue, enhancing the strength and durability of structures and adding longevity to seawalls and coastal protection systems.

Traditional concrete marine infrastructure has low biodiversity and ecological function, but ECOncrete uses a compound called admix to combine and seal concrete, which prevents toxins from leaching out and affecting the marine community that settles on the surface. It contains a mixture of pozzolans, which can include volcanic ash and pumice, and over 90% recycled and byproduct materials, to seal the concrete.

The surface texture of the concrete features is complex, providing marine larvae with the micro-turbulence they need to settle and grow into adults. They mimic marine habitats by including features such as tidepools, crevices and holes that serve as shelter and breeding spaces for fish and other species.

Head of sustainability at the Port of Vigo, Carlos Botana, says, “I’m very pleased with the evolution of the marine biodiversity that has been thriving in the infrastructure.

"The amount of life that has been generated is surprising and it is still early days. The new marine ecosystems will keep flourishing and promoting the biodiversity in the Port of Vigo."

Port of Vigo, north-western Spain. Image: Pexels

The Living Ports Project, led by ECOncrete, is a collaboratiion including Cardama Shipyards and the Technical University of Denmark. It is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, to showcase the next generation of port infrastructure and responsible marine construction methodologies.

ECOncreate structures are in place in over 40 projects, across 11 countries, and in eight seas, and have been proven to increase biodiversity, improve water quality and sequester carbon.