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Ports environmental effort moves ahead
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SAVANNAH — Israeli scientists who installed a new type of fish-friendly concrete at the Port of Savannah are encouraged by the growth of aquatic plants and animals on panels tested at the Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City Terminal.

In February, Shimrit Finkel and Ido Sella of SeArc Ecological Marine Consulting suspended a series of 30 panels from the docks at Garden City Terminal, featuring different chemical formulations and surface textures.

The GPA is testing the product as part of its environmental stewardship effort.

“This building material could transform our dock substructure into an incubator for aquatic life,” said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “The study currently being conducted at the GPA is part of our cutting-edge sustainability initiative, finding real-world solutions to ecological issues that can be implemented globally.”

ECOncrete came to the GPA’s attention at the 2011 Savannah Ocean Exchange contest ( for the $100,000 Gulfstream Navigator Award for innovative ecological ideas. While the product did not win the competition, GPA engineers are considering it for possible use at Georgia’s deepwater ports. ECOncrete could be used to produce pilings for new construction, in the repair of existing pilings, or to sheath current dock infrastructure. Foltz, who sits on the Savannah Ocean Exchange board, was impressed with the early test results.

Sella said SeArc’s ECOncrete features a lower pH than regular cement and a honeycombed surface. Both factors attract filter feeders, which clean the water and form the foundation for a broader food chain.

Finkel and Sella recently returned to Savannah, among other port city test sites in New York and Florida, for a six-month follow-up.

“We were really happy to see how well they came out,” said Finkel.

After being suspended for six months off the dock face at the GPA’s Port of Savannah, the ECOncrete tiles were temporarily hoisted to reveal surfaces alive with plants and tiny animals. Typically, only barnacles thrive on the regular cement used in marine construction. However, ECOncrete proved more hospitable to a broader range of aquatic animals, hosting various corals, mussels, oysters and hydrozoans (related to sea anemones and jellyfish).

“These invertebrates are at the center of a food web, helping to establish an enriched environment and improved fish habitat,” said GPA Environmental Sustainability Manager Natalie Schanze.

Finkel said the textured surface allows them to latch on and survive. Sella added that the accretion of shells and calcium carbonate will be experienced by subsequent generations of aquatic life as a natural surface, instead of a man-made structure.Finkel and Sella took small samples for lab analysis and returned the tiles to the water. A full report on results will be delivered to the GPA and other cooperating organizations. The two will return in February 2013 for a one-year check-up.