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Rich revetments 


Tidal pool in front of a dike

Tidal pool in front of a dike 


Structural works, like dikes are mostly designed from a safety point of view. Optimization for enhancing ecological functions is not often considered in the design phase. The objective of rich revetments is (besides coastal protection) to contribute to the ecological value of a dike. The aim is to create a net positive contribution to natural value of the dike section. Other objectives are to create educational opportunities and to raise awareness of designers, constructors, students and visitors.

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labelGeneral Building Block Description

Advantages compared with 'traditional solution'

When the physical conditions or design constraints require hard solutions, the rich revetment concept still provides opportunities for added services. A rich revetments design can be a robust design that does not require additional maintenance. The following advantages are recognized:


  • Ecosystems
    • Provision of valuable hard substrate habitats to the surrounding ecosystem
    • Provision of connectivity along the shore, in the form of a continous ribbon of diverse hard substrate habitats (migration hubs). Potential to link previously disconnected areas of high natural value.
  • Socio-economics
    • Potential for collection of edible plants and animals, for instance to support of fish population for fisheries
    • Contribution to an attractive landscape for recreation such as visitors, recreational fishing, and divers (Barbier et al. 2011).
  • Governance
    • Construction of a rich revetment solution could provide mitigation and compensation measures with respect to requirements of environmental legislation such as water framework directive and natura 2000.
    • No loss of existing foreshore, because the footprint is equal to the classic revetment solution. This will reduce conflicts with environmental protection regulations, especially Natura 2000.


A traditional dike without eco-enhancing structures

A traditional dike without eco-enhancing structures

Disadvantages compared with 'traditional solution'

  • Construction of rich revetments could add to the costs of the project.
  • Added attractiveness for recreation could add additional safety risk for the public or hinderance for the surrounding.
  • Provision of connectivity along the shore, could provide habitat for invasive species as stepping stones (see for instance DELOS project,
  • In some countries, creating pools in revetments is not allowed due to danger of breeding mosquito's.



How to Use



Drawing of the rich revetment concept

Drawing of the rich revetment concept


To determine the feasibility and design of a Rich Revetment project guidance is presented below. As a first step of the design process an analysis of the planned works and its bordering ecosystem is needed. On the basis of conceptual design principles a technical design can be realized and budgeted.

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labelHow to use

Pre-feasibility phase

  • Discussion with client on details of civil engineering design and specification of ecological and recreational potential
  • Analysis of local ecosystem biodiversity of hard substrate species.
  • Analysis of physical forcing factors and limiting design criteria as parameters and boundary criteria for ecologically enhanced design. In this case wave exposure and siltation risk are critical design factors.
  • Analysis of surrounding ecosystem and identification of possible interactions and reinforcements. In the Netherlands Eastern Scheldt case the value of the diverse hard substrate community is already established. Maintaining this values is a requirement for dike reconstruction in the Eastern Scheldt.
  • Discussion with client on selection of suitable dike sections, depending on planning
  • Pre-design, valuation and costing of ecologically enhanced structures and presentation to the client
  • Analysis of the physical aspects of the water system and the dike section (foreshore and intertidal morphology, wave conditions, shape of the dike and the toe)
  • Consideration of the possible interests involved in the area (recreational activities such as scuba diving, commercial fishing etc.)
  • Selection of most promising eco-structure. In the Eastern Scheldt case focus was put on keeping the water at the dike toe and provide suitable substrate for attachment of macro-algae.


Ecoshape pilot in the Eastern Scheldt

Find suitable dike sections, such as here for the Ecoshape pilot in the Eastern Scheldt


Feasibility phase

  • Technical design of most promising eco-structure within overall civil engineering planning and requirements
    • Slopes and orientations
    • Choice of materials
    • Size distribution, porosity
    • Application method
    • Seeding method (if required)
    • Detailed costing and phasing within major project planning
  • Small scale field trial
  • Setup of monitoring and maintenance plans (if required, this is a necessity in the case of pilots)
  • General observations/experiences
    • Technical design should include interaction with biologist to ensure optimum design. It is noted that the proposed approach is mainly empirical in nature. Field trials are an important way to establish the feasibility, site constraints and availability of biological recruits to colonize newly established hard substrates for any local situation. Some field trials concerning effectivity of maintaining wet conditions, material type and sorting are executed by University of Applied Sciences Hogeschool Zeeland in cooperation with project Zeeweringen, Imares and Deltares.
    • Habitat enhancement measures such as those proposed will be designed not to interfere with the prime objectives of coastal defense.
    • Habitat enhancement measures should not lead to unwanted proliferation of nuisance or invasive species.


Settlement of sponges is facilitated by an optimal design of rich revetments

Settlement of sponges is facilitated by an optimal design of rich revetments


Project phase

  • Assessment of project implementation by biological expertise
  • Execution of the project
  • Evaluation of ecological development through monitoring during 3 consecutive years by biological expertise; especially for pilot like enterprises


Project Costs

Costs of rich revetment solutions widely differ and there is no standard guideline that indicates costs.


Practical Applications


A number of different field cases are presented on the right side, providing applications of the concept of Rich Revetment. Design or application can greatly differ among sites, depending on goals (coastal protection, nature development, retention) and specific local conditions. For example, depth and wave exposure determine what design is best applicable. Rich revetment structures are typically applied in shallow environments with limited wave exposure. Experiences from specific cases can be used as inspiration for future designs. For more information on the Building with Nature cases we refer to the case description pages.

The depth and wave exposure determine what type of design is best applicable   The depth and wave exposure determine what type of design is best applicable



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labelPractical Applications

The pilot project in Yerseke is the first location in the Netherlands that uses tidal pools, called ecobasins, in the "toe" of the dike. The "toe" is the fortified link between the slope and the front shore. The dike toe consists of stones, protecting the dike against erosion and to support the dike cover. As a pilot, ecobasins are designed on a dike section of 1 km. 10 short pools (basin type 1) and 2 long pools (basin type 2) are installed on this dike section. The basins are waterproof and water remains in the ecobasins during low-tide.


Within the basins various stone types and sortings provide fixation for algae and shelter for juvenile fish and macrofauna. The basins at the toe of the dike are sealed with sheet asphalt and then filled up with lava stone. The dike toe is located near the low tide line, so that water remains in the basins after high tide. In all basins the total number of species have increased. Basins that fall dry contain less species than basins in which water remains during low tide. 


Tidal pool with low water

Tidal pool with high water


For several locations along the Eastern and Western Scheldt the dike foreshore needed to be strengthened in 2009. The requirements for this contract to ensure the dike stability was originally focussed on economical aspects only. However, the special ecological value of two locations in the Eastern Scheldt were recognized.


The approach to enriching the foreshore involved creating as many different habitats as possible. The engineering design called for a variety of different materials, gradients and shapes. The design aims to create differences in height, hiding places, and variations in the exposure to and shelter from the currents. To ensure flexibility, the design consists of a modular system of blocks consisting of round, cris-crossed and atoll-shaped piles of stones and linear elements, all in varying sizes. Combining these blocks made it possible to achieve more variety at a larger scale.

The development of the underwater landscape is monitored by divers. A fast recovery was stated as well as a high biodiversity. Also rare organisms settle within the landscape. The site has developed as a popular diving spot, this enlarges the supportive group for these types of alternatives.


Dike foreshore design















The breakwaters of the entrance of the North Sea Channel at IJmuiden (The Netherlands) protect the port against wave attack. The breakwaters consist of concrete blocks. The surface of the blocks, the cracks, and spaces between these blocks are habitats for a diversity of marine flora and fauna like algae, insects, crabs and shellfish, fish and birds (including a red list species). Because of this, it is important that during and after renovation of breakwaters, the affected hard substrate habitats will recover quickly.


In order to stimulate the growth of marine species on the breakwaters, the aim of this pilot study was to test slabs with various textures and geometric shapes attached to the concrete blocks for algal and macro-faunal colonisation (see picture).


In conclusion, small adaptations of both texture and structure of concrete constructions within the intertidal zone of the marine environment lead to better settlement and growth conditions for algae and macrobenthos to settle and grow. Thus primary and secondary production is enhanced, without decreasing the safety level of the port. 




Port areas consist mainly of man-made constructions, such as seawalls, piles and pontoons. These hard structures are favoured as a settling substrate by different organisms, such as algae, mussels, sponges and oysters. However, substrates in harbours are often smooth hampering establishment of organisms, and provide little hiding place for larger animals such as fish, lobsters and crabs. Traditional harbour design results in a smooth underwater profile. Possibilities to create simple but effective profiled structures in harbour areas are investigated in pilot study.


In order to create a more profiled underwater environment this pilot aimed to come up with designs for suspended artificial substrates. The goals was to

  • promote the settlement of mussels and consequently contribute to water quality in harbours.
  • enlarge available substrate for settlement,
  • increase biomass of filter-feeders (e.g. mussels)
  • enhance habitat diversity in port areas.


For the Rotterdam harbour two specific structures were selected for further elaboration: polehulas and pontoonhulas. The hulas resemble Hawaiian skirts and consist of bands with ropes that could be wrapped around poles or attached to pontoons. Use of artificial substrates, such as hulas, can increase the amount of biomass considerable.




One of the first experiments carried out in the framework of Rich Revetment are the wave reducing poles. The poles serve as attachment site for all kinds of plants and animals and simultaneously reduce the height of incoming waves. This project experiments with different types of poles (wood and concrete) and ropes (nylon and sisal) to determine the best design.


The poles provide a hard substrate for the establishment of all kinds of plants and animals. E.g. mussels can filter the water and add to the water quality. These mussels are an important food source for birds. Behind the poles, the birds can find a sheltered area for foraging.


A wave reducing pole forest reduces the wave load. It can be an alternative in case of a shortage or inadequate crown height trim, but does not solve an unstable embankment or dike with probability of piping. Calculations with the SWAN wave model have been performed for the wave reducing willow forest in for the Noordwaard. A similar broad pole forest is a (very) expensive construction but the wave reducing poles can be an alternative for wave reducing reef. The poles should be sturdy enough for storm conditions, sufficiently deep rooted and sufficient high above the waterline.


Wave reducing poles

Ecological dike reinforcement - Ellewoutsdijk (Netherlands)

The seawall of the village of Ellewoutsdijk was in need of repairs. However, raising the dikes is not a viable option as that would mean doing away with an ancient fort. Innovative solutions are required in order to preserve safety (ComCoast). It was investigated whether it would be possible to reinforce the dike coverings instead of raising them. That way, in extreme situations the highest waves could crash over the seaside dike without the inward dikes failing as a result. A water retaining top layer has been added to of the armour layer. Additionally, a small (coffee cup size) hole has been made in some stones. At low tide, small puddles remain in these holes, further stimulating algae growth. 


Different types of ecological revetment stones

Holes in revetment stones to enhance biodiversity


Tiles at seawalls (Singapore)

Increasing urbanisation worldwide has resulted in extensive replacement of natural habitats with man-made habitats (Chapman et al., 2009). A good example is the artificial seawall, that has becomes an ubiquitous feature of the coastline with the increased need for protection (Moschella et al., 2005). This has resulted in habitat fragmentation and a global loss of various coastal ecosystems that occur at the transition from sea to land (Chapman et al., 2003).


The physical conditions along the gradient from lower to the upper shore are extremely variable. The subtidal is essentially fully marine and not exposed to the same stressors as the intertital The intertidal is a much more stressful environment for marine organisms, primarily due to the time spent ‘emersed’, i.e. exposed to the air. On seawalls the high littoral zone tends to host very low in diversity as the conditions are too harsh to support marine life. Natural rocky shores tend to have more refugia and can therefore support more life at the higher zones.


To aim for a greater biodiversity, concrete (complexity) tiles are retrofitted to existing seawalls. Concrete complexity tiles can be seen in the picture. There is a five-step design plan:

  1. Select maximum hydrodynamic exposure where still useful to try to enhance diversity.

  2. Choose maximum seawall slope where still useful to try to enhance diversity.

  3. Select maximum height (= shortest inundation period) where useful to try to enhance diversity by adding complexity tiles.

  4. Select optimal structure (i.e., complexity tiles) to enhance diversity.

  5. Select optimal placement of structures to enhance diversity


Retrofitting of tiles has a strong positive effect on the seawall diversity. This result offers promising opportunities to incorporate the best-tile designs within concrete blocks as typically used for seawall construction.


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  • Moschella, P. S., M. Abbiati, P. Åberg, L. Airoldi, J. M. Anderson, F. Bacchiocchi, F. Bulleri, G. E. Dinesen, M. 
    Frost, E. Gacia, L. Granhag, P. R. Jonsson, M. P. Satta, A. Sundelöf, R. C. Thompson & S. J. Hawkins, 2005. Low-crested coastal defence structures as artificial habitats for marine life: Using ecological criteria in design. Coastal Engineering, 52: 1053-1071
  • . Rijke Berm Oosterschelde Tussenrapportage 2008. Monitoringsrapport Ecoconsult (in Dutch)
  • . Rijke Berm Oosterschelde Tussenrapportage 2009. Monitoringsrapport Ecoconsult (in Dutch)
  • RWS, 2013. Eco-engineering in the Netherlands: Soft interventions with a solid impact. Published by Rijkswaterstaat, Deltares and Ecoshape. 42 pp.




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