Seawalls dominate coastlines near urban areas where they are frequently used by people, and are often covered in seaweeds and animals which may change how they are perceived.
 Photograph Credit: Tom Fairchild.

By By Tom Fairchild, Jasmine Weedon, and John N. Griffin.

This Plain Language Summary is published in advance of the paper discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Studies in land-based environments such as meadows, woodlands, and city parks have shown that people often find places that contain lots of different types of plant and animal life to be more visually pleasing and interesting, as well as more stress relieving. In these plant-dominated environments, conserving and promoting the variety of living things – biodiversity – is expected to provide benefits for both the wellbeing of people, and nature. However, we know much less about how people perceive seashore species, despite almost half of the world population living close to coasts.  

It is becoming more important to understand whether marine seaweeds and animals invoke the same positive feelings that land-based wildlife does – particularly as coastal structures like seawalls become increasingly familiar sights, and momentum for schemes that conserve or promote biodiversity on seawalls grows. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that contrary to other habitats, people may associate less familiar marine life such as seaweeds with unpleasant slimy textures and smells, or that many different types of marine life create a scene perceived to be “messy” and therefore less pleasant and relaxing.

Do these potential “negative” views of seaweeds and sea life make seawalls less appealing if there are more species? Or do the positive effects of having more species prevail? We asked people how appealing, interesting, and calming they found images of seawalls with different numbers of seaweed and animal species on them. People found structures that had more species to be more appealing, interesting, and calming to look at, suggesting that high numbers of species provide a range of human benefits, despite occasional negative feelings towards species. This occurred because structures were perceived to be more “natural” and have greater “biodiversity” when they were home to a wide variety of sea life: strongly influencing how we see natural spaces.

As public awareness about human impacts on the natural world increases, projects to conserve or enhance biodiversity are becoming more common. Our study supports the idea that designing seawalls to support biodiversity not only brings benefits to wildlife, but can also benefit the lives of people who live by or use our urban coastlines.