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“I witnessed the development of seawalls, breakwaters, marinas and ports replacing beautiful, natural coastal habitats.”

Ocean Witness Shimrit shares her story

“Diving in different marine environments for my work, I saw the severe impacts of coastal developments have on marine communities.” Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, a marine biologist and ecologist, lives in Tel Aviv (Israel). When she started studying biology, she never dreamed of running an international company, but her passion to make a positive environmental change led her to co-found ECOncrete with her friend Dr. Ido Sella: a company that helps build healthier urban coastlines. And hard work pays off: Shimrit is awarded with the WE Empower Challenge, a business competition which honors female entrepreneurs (from each of the five UN regions) who are inspiring communities to act to create the world we want by 2030. Today, Shimrit shares her story.

become an ocean witness
25 September 2018 | Tel Aviv, Israel

Hi Shimrit, what’s your earliest memory of the ocean?

I grew up 5 minutes from the beach, so the ocean has always been a big part of my life. While I especially remember enjoying the beach with my dad as a young kid, I think the ‘turning point’ for me was my first independent research of marine life during high school. Apart from mandatory basic courses like math and literature, we also have to choose extra courses and mine were Biology and Geography. For Biology my final project was about was about mussels growing on the Tel Aviv breakwaters. And years later… I’m working on new technologies that reduce the ecological footprint of breakwaters and other coastal infrastructure.

 

What does the ocean mean to you today?

The ocean from my perspective is first of all an amazing ecosystem full of incredible life that I love to explore. My passion is to help offset some of the negative impacts that people inflict to our ocean due to overexploitation and accelerated coastal development, and to help preserve and restore marine ecosystems and their fragile resources.

“The ocean is an amazing ecosystem full of incredible life that I love to explore.”
Shimrit

What changes have you witnessed in the ocean?

Unfortunately, I see major differences in the state of marine ecosystems compared to two-three decades ago, especially coral reefs and rocky reefs. I witnessed the development of seawalls, breakwaters, marinas and ports replacing beautiful, natural coastal habitats. These structures are mainly made of concrete elements, which offer a poor habitat for marine plants and animals. So instead of seeing rich and beautiful coastlines, I see more and more man-made structures that allow for very little life. This is one of the main drivers for my work.

 

How do these changes affect you?

Diving in different marine environments for my work, I saw the severe impacts coastal developments has on marine all marine life. Loss and destruction of coastal and marine habitats, lower biodiversity and poorer water quality to name a few – a real shame to me as an ecologist. For this reason, I actively started looking for solutions. And not only scientific studies, but actual technologies that can be used by the construction industry. I focused on concrete, the most widely used material in marine construction, and looked for ways to make it a more suitable substrate for marine life.

“Diving in different marine environments for my work, I saw the severe impacts of coastal developments have on marine communities. Loss and destruction of coastal and marine habitats, lower biodiversity and poorer water quality to name a few.”
Shimrit

And what do you do to personally contribute to shifting this change in a positive way?

Together with my friend and colleague, Dr. Ido Sella, I developed ECOncrete; a revolutionary concrete-based technology that brings concrete infrastructures to life, while also contributing to their strength and stability. We’ve come up with a win-win solution based upon bio-enhancing concrete mixtures, rough surface textures, and science based 3D designs, all tailored to enhance the growth of diverse marine plants and animals onto the concrete. These rich communities contribute to the wellbeing of the ecosystem by generating precious biological niches like nursing grounds and shelter. They also provide the structure with valuable protection from physical scour and chemical erosion. Especially species that have strong skeletons, like oysters and corals, encase the concrete with a calicitic layer providing ‘bioprotection’, which increases the stability and longevity of the structure.

Our products have been successfully implemented in the east coast of the US, in Israel, and recently at the Port of Rotterdam in Holland, and we hope to grow and help many countries to reduce the ecological footprint of coastal development schemes, and enrich urban marine environments.

“We’ve come up with a revolutionary concrete-based technology that brings concrete infrastructures to life, while also contributing to their strength and stability.”
Shimrit

And what are good solutions for better conservation of our oceans globally, to your opinion?

Ecological Engineering that harnesses natural processes for the benefit of nature and the benefit of man-made structures are great solutions that need to be in the toolkit of all regulators and developers of coastal regions. Unfortunately, not too many people (including relevant stakeholders) are aware of such innovations, and thus there are very few incentives at the moment to invest in ‘blueing’ coastal structures.

So creating more awareness for sustainable solutions, such as eco-friendly concrete, is very important. Another measure for improving the health of our oceans are Marine Protected Areas. With regards to MPAs as a conversation measure, I see great importance in preserving and protecting natural habitats. It is absolutely crucial for ocean health. With this respect, certain coastal and marine infrastructure that have limited public access (like ports/naval bases) if designed to enhance marine life, can serve as “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) or sort of urban “blue lungs”.

“With regards to MPAs as a conversation measure, I see great importance in preserving and protecting natural habitats. It is absolutely crucial for ocean health.”
Shimrit

In 2030, what does the ocean look like according to you?

I am afraid many ecosystems will change nearly beyond recognition, replaced by man-made urban coastlines, creating heavily altered marine environments. Since the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 1860s (connecting the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea), hundreds of species have invaded the Mediterranean Sea, often replacing the local species. The widening of the canal, that started in 2015, is expected to worsen the problem. Moreover, it’s known that man-made structures like ports, marinas and aquaculture facilities are key vectors to invasive species.

Yet hopefully, as the science of urban marine ecosystems is developing, future urban coastlines will look and function differently than now. Instead of unbalanced, concrete waterfronts, we’ll have thriving and rich urban marine ecosystems. For this to happen, we need to successfully spread the word and assimilate eco-engineering innovations (like ECOncrete technologies), through cross-disciplinary collaborations with decision makers, developers, ecologists, biologists and landscape architects. Together we can build much healthier and more productive bio-enhanced coastal and marine structures, which can provide better ecosystem services, and allow greater resilience and adaptivity to climate change threats and to other human pressures.

“Together we can build much healthier and more productive bio-enhanced coastal and marine structures, which can provide better ecosystem services, and allow greater resilience and adaptivity to climate change threats and to other human pressures.”
Shimrit

Thanks for sharing your story, you’re an Ocean Witness now! What do you want to say to other Ocean Witnesses?

Thank you very much, it’s an honor to be an Ocean Witness. I personally see great value in active, interdisciplinary collaborations that can increase environmental awareness and help increase ocean health. So I would like to invite other Ocean Witnesses to reach out and join forces whenever relevant.

About Shimrit

Shimrit is 43 years old and lives with her husband and three amazing ocean-loving girls in Tel Aviv, Israel. She established a consulting firm called SeArc (Seascape Architecture) with her university colleague Dr. Ido Sella. Their goal was to provide consulting services to marinas, fish farm operators and ports on how to reduce their negative impact on the marine environment. After a couple of years, they started ‘playing’ with concrete in order to develop a bio-enhancing solution and ended up establishing ECOncrete together in 2012. They now have over 10 employees and are aiming to grow and make a positive impact on the industry. And hard work pays off: Shimrit is one of the five female awardees of the WE Empower Challenge. This business competition honors women entrepreneurs, one from each of the five UN regions, who are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and inspiring entire communities to act to create the world we want by 2030.

 

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Shimrit

Tel Aviv, Israel

Shimrit established ECOncrete together with a colleague and she is now one of the five female awardees of the WE Empower Challenge.