Project Description

With the population growth along coastlines the demand of infrastructure for various societal needs such as transportation (ports), energies (pipelines, power stations, oil/gas rigs) and urbanisation (marinas, seawalls, breakwaters, etc.) has greatly increased. The most affected regional coasts are in the western Mediterranean Sea, dominated by concrete structures and in some areas the growth of cities, ports and industries has meant that over 90% of coastline has been developed (EEA, 1999). This increase has resulted in replacing the substrates of natural coastlines. Therefore, there is a need to develop coastal infrastructure with greener designs and to ensure that the resource is sustainable and the impact on the surrounding marine environment is minimized. One such sustainable potential resource is marine shellfish shell waste. In order to initiate better management of marine resources (increasing and redistribution) of marine by-products resulting from fishing and shellfish industries, the project will address these issues by enhancing the use of marine resources and reusing by-products, developing innovative materials for artificial reefs.

Concrete based coastal and marine infrastructure such as ports, piers, industrial facilities and coastal defence elements dominate coastal zones around the world. The development of artificial reefs aims to enhance the marine flora and fauna.

The objectives of the project are to investigate the reuse of marine shellfish shell waste as aggregates for concrete-based coastal structures to be used in fabrication of artificial reefs, to develop innovative materials with specific texture and design elements for artificial reefs and to deploy these artificial reefs to investigate the biodiversity and production of such artificial systems in the North and Irish Seas. Another objective is to understand the role of artificial reefs with the objective of enhancing benthic biodiversity. This will involve investigating various combinations of materials and design, selection and supplying of the different types of sea shell wastes, production and installation, the environmental impact, characterisation of study area, study of colonialization and monitoring the reefs, trophic interactions, study of natural and long-term and seasonal variability and of community changes associated with benthic disturbance such as fish, invertebrates and macroalgae. The first part will focus on the optimisation of an innovative design of artificial reefs and will be supervised by Dr Mohammed Sonebi and co-supervised by Dr Louise Kregting from the School of Natural and Built Environment (Queen’s University Belfast). The second part of the project focusing on the investigation of various combinations of materials and design, selection and supplying of the different shell marine wastes, production and installation on the environmental impact, characterisation of study area, study of colonialization and monitoring the reefs, trophic interactions, study of natural and long-term and seasonal variability and of community changes associated with benthic disturbance such as fish, invertebrates and macroalgae will be undertaken at Aberdeen University supervised by Professor Frithjof Kuepper (Chair in Marine Biodiversity). Field locations will be at Strangford Lough, near Queen’s Marine Laboratory and the Ythan Estuary (close to OceanLab / the National Decommissioning Centre).

Essential skills:

  • Completion of a relevant research project, module or student placement. Applicants should indicate how their experience could be applied to this post.
  • Understanding of chemistry of materials and biodiversity demonstrated through the completion of a module, student project or placement.

Desirable skills:

  • Relevant work experience
  • Experience in Technical Report writing.
  • Experience in mineral analysis techniques demonstrated through the completion of a module, student project or placement.

Funding and eligibility information available here.


Mohammed Sonebi

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Mohammed Sonebi
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Frithjof Kuepper

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Frithjof Kuepper
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Louise Kregting

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Louise Kregting
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment


[1] Sayer MDJ, Brown CJ (2010) The influence of block shape, water depth and analysis technique on the measured profiles of artificial reefs. Underw. Technol 29:41–47.
[2] UNEP (2009) London Convention and Protocol / UNEP: Guidelines for the Placement of Artificial Reefs. In UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies. UNEP, London, UK

Research Methods

  • First, initial characterisation testing will be conducted on marine shellfish waste, potential binders, cementitious materials, additives, chemical admixtures to be used with to produce eco-friendly artificial reefs.
  • Physical properties: The particle size distribution analysis, porosity, flakiness, densities, shapes, absorption of shellfish aggregates grinded at different sizes and specific densities will be measured.
  • Optimisation technique of formulation of marine shell-concrete as such factorial design approach will be used by measuring the fresh and mechanical properties of marine concrete included drying shrinkage.
  • Investigation of treatments of waste will be also determined to improve the quality from organic materials.
  • Techniques such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and X-ray tomography in order to develop a better understanding of the microstructure mechanisms of marine concrete.
  • Variety of innovative manufacturing methods used to create our eco-engineering modules of artificial reefs will be carried out.
  • Textured tiles will be fabricated which are flat with a textured finish that provides microhabitat for a range of small species such as barnacle larvae and phytobenthos.
  • Tiles with crevices and edges will be fabricated which provide complex surfaces for marine life at attach to. They also provide refuges from predators and shelter from environmental stress (e.g. temperature, waves, drying out).
  • Characterize the mineralogy and examine microfractures, pore spaces and other micro-textures in the materials and examine mineral growth structures and XRD (e. g. during curing, response to immersion). Evaluate presence of organic impurities in the seashells will be also carried out.
  • Evaluate the behaviour of surface finish to cycle of weathering with drying and wetting with sea water at Strangford Lough, Portaferry.
  • In the Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, close to a coastal research laboratory (Oceanlab / NDC), the flora and fauna that have grown/not grown on the test samples will be recorded. Records will include photographs for use in future marketing material. Identify desirable/non desirable species that have presented using statistical tools.

Expected Training Provision

  • PGR Welcome and Induction
  • Lab Safety Induction
  • Graduate School (GS) Writing your PhD in Year 1
  • NBE Teaching Support Training for Postgraduates
  • GS Preparing for Differentiation and Annual Progress Review (APR)
  • Use of advanced techniques of characterisation such XRD, SEM, thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), carbonation test.
  • Training on testing absorption, particle size distribution, density, porosity, flakiness, workability
  • Training on testing of mechanical performances as compressive strength, young modulus.
  • Training on long-term weathering testing and its effect on mass loss of specimen mass, dimensional size variation, and compressive, strength, drying shrinkage.
  • Training on durability of sulfate attack, chloride ingress, supported by techniques such as SEM and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).
  • Training on durability test such as sulfate attack, weathering, bio-degradation.
  • Training and monitoring on mechanisms of biodegradation.
  • Training on statically approach to determine any relationship between design of artificial reefs and macro-algal vegetation such as survey.
  • Training on digital images
  • GS Writing for The Conversation, PhD Workshop
  • GS (LIB) Getting your first article published
  • Pure Seminar
  • Training on Turnitin software.
  • Communicating Postgraduate Research Skills to Employers
  • Generic training activities associated with QUADRAT will be facilitated, and other bespoke training provided as the need arises.


With nearly two thirds of the human population living along the coastlines, the proliferation of coastal and marine infrastructure that supply various societal needs such as transportation (ports), energy (pipelines, power stations) and urbanization (marinas, seawalls, breakwaters etc.) is inevitable. The result is a continuous and increasing trend of coastal hardening, replacing natural coastlines.

Despite the increasing dominance of hardened and armoured shorelines across the globe, very little is known about the marine macroalgae of artificial reefs and understanding of species assemblages on artificial reef modules (ARM), especially understanding their environmental effects is limited. This knowledge gap severely impairs our ability to manage urbanized coastal environments. The few studies that have examined marine growth on ARM in Irish and North seas (Norway, Calshot (UK), Cherbourg and Dinard (France)), Runswick Bay, UK), …). This mainly results from the unique physical characteristics of ARM, predominantly, composition and design. Moreover, over 50% of ARM are made of Portland cement, which is known as a poor substrate in terms of biological recruitment, presumably due to high surface alkalinity and presence of compounds that are toxic to marine life. Thus, the ability of ARM to provide ecosystem services similar to those offered by natural habitats is severely compromised, and most urban/industrial coastal environments are considered as sacrificed zones in relation to environmental activity. Therefore, this project aims to develop ARM made with shellfish waste aggregates and other eco-friendly supplementary materials.

The impact of this research will be significant on enhancing the biological performance of armoured shorelines by using the artificial reefs made with different surface complex finish and concrete composition.

Proposed Supervision

The successful candidate will be supervised at Queen’s University Belfast – School of Natural and Built Environment by Dr Mohammed Sonebi and Louise Kregting as a primary and secondary supervisors respectively, and Prof Frithjof Kuepper from University of Aberdeen – School of Biological Science as co-supervisor. The student will have a formal monthly meeting with supervisors via teams or zoom.

Prior to annual program reviews (APRs) taking place a review panel will be created for the student. It is the responsibility of principal supervisor to select the appropriate panel chair and expert and gender balance will be considered. APR outcomes will be clearly communicated to the student. Initial Reviews, Differentiations and APRs will be organised centrally across the School by the Research Office.

After 3 months the student will have the initial review and 9 months the differentiation. Within three months of first enrolment, students are required to submit a short report to the APR panel. At nine months into Year 1 the APR is part of the Differentiation process which determines if the student has made sufficient progress towards PhD standard. In year 2, 3 and 4, the students will have APRs. Supervisors will advise student to submit all documentation to panel members one week prior to the APR meeting and that any sample work is reasonable in word length and has been checked via Turnitin; supervisors must complete of the APR form prior to the meeting. Assessment of progress will be established following the panel’s consideration of the quality of the student’s written report and their responses to oral questions. In addition, the verbal and written views of the supervisors will also be taken into consideration. Decisions on the student progression will be assessed via pre-defined criteria on the APR form.

The student will have an induction on health and safety and Queen’s University Belfast and Aberdeen University. The candidate also will be trained with our specialised technicians to use facilities at our labs in both universities.

Proposed Timetable

The student will be affected at Queens University Belfast for the first 1 year and 9 months from Oct. 2021/2022. The first part of the thesis will focus on characterisation of the marine shellfish shell waste, mix design and formulation, fresh and mechanical properties, weathering tests, sulfate attack, chloride ingress, microstructure, design of modules geometry with different surface finishes.

Afterwards, from 2022 to 2024, the second part of the project will be at Aberdeen University to investigate the growth of marine macro-algae of artificial reefs in North Sea and Irish sea. Additionally, the student can visit both universities during the project at any time.

The student will have an induction and attend the QUADRAT event every year.
The student can attend and present the work at conferences related to the topic and in second or third submit 1 or 2 journal papers to disseminate results of the thesis.


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

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