Something happens when you stand on the shore, looking out at the sea. Whether you put it down to the overwhelming vastness, the secrets beneath the surface, or the waves as they roll over your toes, we all feel its power.

‘People like to be by the sea,’ says Dr Ruth Callaway.

‘Most people have an emotional connection to it.’ A marine ecologist at Swansea University, Callaway’s chief concern is the global biodiversity crisis.

Human activity has greatly reduced the number of different species on Earth, threatening the stability of ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems are vital for everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink. Callaway is working to reduce our negative impact on aquatic life, starting with the Mumbles Sea Wall.

Donations from alumni and friends are supporting a project that involves the local community in developing the sea defences of the future, to encourage biodiversity in an area heavily populated by both residents and tourists. To keep houses and people safe, humans build infrastructures such as breakwaters and sea walls. As a result, we create what’s known as coastal squeeze: we reduce the transition area between the water and the land.

Why is this a problem?

Some species can only live in this transition area. Without it, they simply can’t survive. Moreover, many young species begin their lives there, then move into the sea as they grow. This wave-exposed area is already an extremely challenging place to live and is dry for most of the day (a real problem to marine species, who all have gills). You might suggest we stop building infrastructures that cause coastal squeeze, but the sea level is rising – and will continue to rise.

This is where Callaway’s work comes in. Her idea is to redesign the sea wall so it becomes more attractive to wildlife, encouraging biodiversity. ‘We have fixed hexagonal panels to the Mumbles Sea Wall, which is going to be rebuilt in the coming years. We’ll rebuild with a view to exist for the next - at least - 100 years,’ Callaway explains. To date, she has installed 135 panels in three places along the sea wall, testing 11 commercial patterns.

Donors provided Callaway with the opportunity to test other, bespoke, patterns. The most popular pattern with Mumbles locals has been the Oyster, which incorporates the area’s proud history as a thriving oyster industry. This has made the project far more meaningful to the community.

This new way of research is important to Callaway. ‘Community is hardly ever at the centre of a research proposal. I think we still see it as a nice to do and not a need to do,’ she says. Thanks to our support, Callaway has so far conducted four workshops with primary school children and more are planned. This is an exciting chance to teach young people about the importance of wildlife conservation – and the beauty of their natural environment.

Among the rockpools, the children discover a hidden world.

Callaway recalls one group of girls, who’d never spent time on the beach, despite living locally. At first, they were squeamish and out of their comfort zones. But gradually, with Callaway’s enthusiasm and encouragement ‘they dared to hold a crab for the first time...that excitement, then, of the children just being in the natural environment and touching some of the species... that was for me the absolute highlight I think.’

‘Donations have allowed me to really widen the impact and the application of this project to community groups. Hopefully in future these people will create some of the eco-engineering solutions themselves.'

If you’re interested in supporting this project or other similar projects, please contact us here