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Company background

Tom Birbeck and James Doddrell formed  with the passion to regenerate fragile and damaged marine ecosystems. Inventing a concrete mould enabled them to create Reef Cube ® structures anywhere in the world. Having spent long hours experimenting with various prototypes, they have now invented a number of products ranging from artificial reef modules to seagrass habitats. 
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What did they want?

To support new product development, the team wanted to understand the microstructure of their innovative new materials of Reef Cubes and, importantly, the interaction between the materials and marine plant species. 
Kelp holdfasts on concrete samples were selected to be investigated for their interaction. Prototype mix designs of concrete materials were provided for testing of the suitability of their usage in the marine environment. 

Agreed analysis plan

  • Various concrete samples cutting to reduce sizes.
  • Surface and cross-section imaging of the interface (attachment) between the concrete prototypes and marine plant species (juvenile and adult kelp).
  • Imaging and elemental analysis at the cross-sections of different mixes of concrete sample.


High-quality imaging shows how kelps (transplanted adult holdfasts and laboratory juvenile growth) were adhering to the concrete surfaces of Reef Cubes.

FIB milled cross-sections and high-resolution imaging revealed the structural arrangement between the kelp and the gripping concrete. Together with elemental analysis, a potential merging between the boundaries of the concrete and the kelp raised a new question for further investigation. 

All details gathered from FIB-SEM showed how the Reef Cube surfaces were colonised by habitat building species, which offered an invaluable reference for new mix designs to innovate the chemistry of the concrete and future kelp communities that establish themselves on Reef Cubes in the marine environment.

Arc Marine result
Arc Marine_result
Arc Marine_result
Arc Marine_result
Arc Marine_result
Arc Marine_result
Arc Marine_result

Company feedback

“Use of the Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre allowed us to delve in to a very new field of study dubbed geophycology, the study of algal interactions with rock – and now concrete. The extreme magnification and FIB-SEM cross section allowed us to examine the growth of kelp species on our concrete mixes in detail, to confirm and better understand what we had observed with the naked eye. To be able to view these interactions with such detail lends credibility to our structures as being eco-friendly and also gives us a baseline for future research in to the growth of macroalgae on our Reef Cubes, with new concrete mixes when they are developed. The professionalism and skill of the team is especially worthy of comment; and the progress of the project was very much guided by their expert hand, to suit our needs.”
Samuel Hickling (Oceanographer at Arc Marine)