Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Getting the experiment started

Along the sides of the causeway connecting Mutton Island to the mainland there are coastal defence units called sheds. Click here to view on Google maps
A shed in this instance refers to a hollow concrete block designed to dissipate wave energy in order to protect the underlying rocks upon which the causeway is built, not somewhere to store your lawnmower.
The shed units along the side of the causeway
Since the sheds are hollow they allow the tide to drain away however, whilst some organisms will take refuge amongst the underlying rocks until the tide returns, there is little to hold onto the seawater and create rock pools.

The experiment, in a nutshell, involves creating artificial rock pools at the lower and higher levels of the defence sheds and comparing what organisms settles in these to those that have settled in comparable natural pools and exposed natural rock as well as comparing the lower and upper artificial pools and the seaward and leeward sides of the causeway. The aim is to enlighten ecological engineering of future coastal defences and allow for cost-efficient incorporation of artificial rock pools into these defences to allow for an increase in biodiversity compared to older defence constructions.

The sheds viewed from above

Well, work began in earnest over the last week to get this experiment up and running.

First, myself and Dr Louise Firth, who's my supervisor and the brains behind all this, spent a day rummaging in amongst the sheds to find suitable sites to place the concrete artificial pools. Some of the sites needed modification by removal of mud and slime covered rocks which had an attendant odour that made for very glamorous work.

Once we had identified 20 sites each side of the causeway, 10 lower and 10 upper in each case, it was time to bring in the heavy machinery. Many marine ecological experiments are descibed as bucket and spade experiments, this is not one of them!
Three man band

Following 2 days of intense activity wherein the future of the experiment lay in the hands of the three-man crew who had the unenviable task of realising Louise's vision of this straightforward but hopefully powerful experiment, we emerged triumphant having thwarted the fast approaching tides, with all our rock pools in place. There were worrying times at the beginning of the process as each party attempted to work out the requirements and limitations of the other but Bernard, Paddy and Peter, our three-man band, displayed efficient hard graft to secure our immense gratitude.

                                                  Newly formed artificial pools
New rock pools under their first tide

A shout out has to also go to Lisa and Amy from our shared summer lab for removing and replacing rocks as required to ensure the perfect shed sites for each rock pool despite the mud and stink.

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