Platform by at the quay side with stairs to underwater observatory. Graphics: Econcrete.
Underwater observatory that will reveal life under the surface to the public in the port of Vigo. Graphics: Econcrete.

And the winner is …

The Living Ports project – a consortium that includes DTU researchers, the company Econcrete and others – wins a sustainability award. 

The project Living Ports, located in Vigo in Spain, is honored as the winner of the International Ports and Harbors Sustainability Award 2022 for Infrastructure. The prize was presented at the World Ports Conference, which took place 16-18 May 2022 in Vancouver in Canada.

The prize recognizes the Living Ports project as a pioneer within the ports industry for the initiative to develop more sustainable ports infrastructure.

"It is a very pleasant surprise and I hope that by winning this award, we will be able to bring more attention to the importance of including nature in large-scale infrastructure projects," says Tim Wilms, postdoc and one of three researchers from DTU working on the Living Ports project.

Senior Researcher at DTU Aqua Jon C. Svendsen complements:

"This award conveys an important message: We hope that harbors will be transformed into blue parks with lots of healthy recreational opportunities that favor fish and biodiversity. People started creating green parks ages ago – Central Park in New York was completed in 1876. I hope we’ll be completing blue parks, full of fish and healthy biodiversity, in the years to come".

The vision: biodiversity in construction 

The interplay between construction and biodiversity in ports is the vision for the Living Ports project. 

According to the consortium behind the project, it is “designed to create a fundamental change in the coastal and marine infrastructure industry's operations by shifting away from outdated ’gray’ construction and towards nature-inclusive infrastructure with structural, environmental and socio-economic benefits”. 

Project Leader, Associate Professor Wolfgang Kunther from DTU Sustain is the third of the three researchers from DTU in the project. He explains: 

"Until today, the inclusion of living spaces for marine organisms in industrial harbors has been rarely in the focus of engineering projects. At the core of the Living Ports project are therefore the question if we can generate technical solutions that return the expected additional investments for nature-inclusive designs through an elongated lifetime of the structures, improved biodiversity, and increased benefits for the local population".

The Living Ports project includes a unique underwater observatory that will be moored in front of the ecologically enhanced concrete installations to invite everyone to follow the newly developing habitat next to the Vigo city center.

Why did Living Ports end up winning the prize?  

"Our project is supporting and unwrapping a new world for people. Most people are used to passing by a harbor without knowing the beautiful creatures that might be hiding below the water surface," says Jon C. Svendsen and points out two key goals: 

"We want to make the world below the water surface thrive, and we want to showcase it to everyone. It’s like if somebody said: “Hey, here’s a new dimension for you to go and explore!".

Jon C. Svendsen thinks that the project has the potential to stimulate similar fish and biodiversity projects in many other harbors. People in Copenhagen are already asking: “Why aren’t you doing such a project in Denmark?”.     

A diverse consortium

The Living Ports project was fostered by Econcrete – a construction company that makes nature inclusive concrete elements to attract and support life in the sea at ports and coastal defenses in a collaboration with DTU Aqua researchers Tim Wilms and Jon C. Svendsen and DTU Sustain researcher Wolfgang Kunther. Also part of the consortium are the Cardama Shipyard, located in Vigo, and the Port Authority of Vigo. 

"It is exciting to work with such a diverse consortium. I think that the integration of knowledge available among the different partners, combined with our aim to raise public awareness of the importance of nature-inclusive infrastructure through the planned underwater observatory, is a particular strength of the project that may have ultimately helped us to win this award," says Tim Wilms.

What does the prize mean for your further work?

"We hope that the future will hold a variety of these nature-inclusive design solutions in many harbors bridging the gap between our transport needs and infrastructures and good ecological conditions in these heavily modified areas," says Wolfgang Kunther.