CQUniversity researcher brings 'living seawall' project to life to enhance coastal habitat at Fisherman's Landing, Gladstone

03 March 2023
Rory Mulloy

A CQUniversity-led ‘living seawall’ research project is helping ensure coastal habitats at Fisherman’s Landing, near Gladstone thrive and survive.

Rory Mulloy, Research Worker from CQU’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) and PhD candidate, is facilitating the project, which is co-funded by CQU and Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC).

“The Living Seawalls project aims to demonstrate how a sustainable ‘working with nature’ approach to coastal engineering projects can provide better outcomes for coastal habitats, especially during the initial planning stages of the project,” Rory said.

“Coastal zone development can displace, replace, or fragment important coastal ecosystems. If these same development projects can occur in a way that creates habitat, while still achieving engineering objectives, we can help mitigate habitat loss and re-establish important ecosystem services provided by critical coastal environments.”

As part of the project, GPC built a trial, living seawall site at Fisherman’s Landing, in the Port of Gladstone, using CMERC designs. The trial site will allow Rory to examine different methods of creating mangrove and oyster habitat along existing rock seawalls. 

A living seawall is a constructed seawall that provides habitat for important coastal ecosystem species, such as mangroves, oysters, seagrasses, fish, and marine invertebrates. 

“Traditional seawalls do not provide much habitat, and often replace important, natural habitats,” Rory said.

“A living seawall has additional design considerations that provide natural habitat for key ecosystem species, such as mangroves, oysters, seagrasses, fish, and marine invertebrates.” 

Rory said the project appealed to him because it was an area of science with a real, practical application. 

“The project is really directed at solving the issue of habitat enhancement and scaling up, in a cooperative and achievable way by working with industry partners,” he said.

“There’s a myriad of different avenues of scientific research, and it’s not always easy to see how science can be applied practically. 

“I believe what’s exciting about this project is how relevant and useful this area of study is for developing more sustainable development practices, and providing solutions for coastal managers.” 

Rory is about halfway through the project, which is part of his PhD thesis at CQU.

“I began setting up my research sites at the location in mid-January, so that I can explore methods for recruiting mangroves and oysters to grow along a rock seawall,” he said. 

Rory said he had enjoyed working with GPC on the project.

“GPC has not only provided funding and expertise for this project, but has also been hugely passionate about investing in better outcomes for coastal habitats around Gladstone, and in the co-benefits of sustainable infrastructure design,” he said.

“Everyone I have spoken with at GPC about the project is enthusiastic about it and eager to see the living seawall develop. 

“For CQUniversity and CMERC, this project provides a great example of what the Centre is trying to achieve in developing practical, sustainable solutions for our coastal environments and communities.” 

GPC CEO Craig Haymes said research into the sustainable management of port operations, including biodiversity and habitat protection, and facilitating, growing and diversifying our trade were key Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) strategic priorities for GPC.

“As proud and responsible custodians, GPC strives to preserve and improve the inherent value of the environment and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area values by maintaining the balance between our operations, sustainable development and surrounding environments through innovative projects, partnerships and research,” Mr Haymes said. 

“That’s why partnerships between science and industry are critically important to GPC’s port operations.”