Improving Life On Seawalls

An architecture professor at the University of Kansas is experimenting with a novel idea that might help restore some of the coastal habitat lost to development in Florida.

Keith Van De Riet, an assistant professor at KU’s School of Architecture, Design & Planning is currently undergoing an experiment with the seawalls at WannaB Inn on Manasota Key on Florida’s west coast. On this barrier island off Englewood, Fla., he has equipped a 20-foot section of the previously bare seawall with concrete panels designed to mimic the shape of mangrove roots. With 3-D modeling of actual plants and the use of crushed oyster shells as aggregate, the idea is to recreate some of the same benefits natural mangroves provide sea life. The panels were installed in October, and after just a few weeks they were showing signs of life.

Van De Riet saw a problem with the loss of environmentally beneficial mangrove forests while teaching at Florida Atlantic University. He became interested in replicating some of those benefits, and his work continued after joining faculty in Kansas in 2015. On the ground in Florida, FAU doctoral student Jessene Aquino-Thomas is monitoring the panels.

If the “Reef Wall” panels prove successful, Van De Riet imagines them being used on a large scale to regenerate lost habitat. The experiment is funded by a grant from The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation. The inn gave Van de Riet money matching his grant funds to complete his experiment.

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