How artificial shells are being used to bring marine life back to Blyth estuary

Artificial 'shell shelters' have been installed in Blyth estuary to encourage more marine life. Credit: Biomatrix Water

Dozens of artificial shelters are being installed as part of a major project to improve biodiversity in the region's rivers and estuaries.

The concrete sculptures - known as "shelter shells" - are being placed near the Blyth estuary, in Northumberland, to attract fish and other wildlife back to the area.

The 57 clam shell-shaped sculptures are hand moulded and are intricately textured and ridged to replicate surfaces that would appear in nature.

Some have window holes that allow fish and other creatures to swim through, while others will be suspended like upturned cups to provide tide pool nesting sites for organisms and marine life when the tide goes out.

Hellen Hornby, from Groundwork North East and Cumbria, which has installed the shelters, said: "The aim is to use nature to tackle some of the impacts of industrial damage on our natural habitats.

"By creating artificial intertidal and estuarian habitats here in Blyth, we hope to encourage the return of marine life, improve biodiversity and water quality, especially in waterways like this that have been impacted upon by years of industrial use.

"All these efforts are designed to offer some defence in the fight against climate change by increasing intertidal habitat which is at risk due to sea-level rises and coastal squeeze.”

The shells are being installed at the Commissioner’s Quay in Blyth. Credit: Biomatrix Water

The shells are being installed in Commissioner’s Quay in Blyth and the project is the biggest test site to date for the structures.

Similar structures have been installed successfully in the Red Sea hanging from floating buoys and more locally a smaller trial site in Whitby Harbour, North Yorkshire, at the Eden Project in Cornwall and in the Thames Estuary in London.

It is hoped there will be bio-fill forming in a matter of weeks, though more complex life forms may take months.

Ms Hornby said: “It is a major breakthrough to install a project of this size in one place and will provide a tremendous opportunity to measure the benefits of such artificial habitats to the wildlife of the Blyth estuary.”

Heather Harrison, from the Environment Agency’s environment programme team said: “Nature is our biggest weapon in the fight against climate change and we are committed to this programme to restore and revitalise our estuaries across the North East.

"Improving water quality and biodiversity in our network of rivers and estuaries will go some way to capturing carbon both on land and in the water."

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