Reef Design – Meet the The Innovative Erosion Mitigation Units

Reef Design – Meet the The Innovative Erosion Mitigation Units

Port Phillip Bay, a picturesque and biodiverse marine environment, has been under siege of erosion, accelerated by widespread development and environmental changes. Amidst this challenge, Reef Design Lab, a Melbourne-based innovation hub, introduces a groundbreaking solution – the Erosion Mitigation Units (EMUs).

These structures, a blend of art, engineering, and ecology, are crafted to mitigate erosion while fostering a thriving marine habitat.

The EMUs combine traditional casting techniques with digital moulding analysis. Each unit is constructed from a low-energy concrete mixture enriched with recycled oyster shells sourced locally. This amalgamation enhances the teams’ structural robustness and provides an ideal substrate for colonising marine organisms. The intricate design, resembling lotus roots, is optimised to offer refuge and breeding grounds for a diverse array of aquatic life.

Installed near the City of Greater Geelong, the EMUs are submerged and mechanically anchored to the sand, ensuring resilience against the relentless waves. The organic shapes, adorned with caves, tunnels, and hiding spaces, have metamorphosed into sanctuaries for shellfish, octopus, sponges, and coral. One-centimetre-wide ridges characterise the surface and are a magnet for reef-building species like tube worms, mussels, and oysters. Six months post-installation, a vibrant underwater ecosystem is emerging, marking the dawn of revived biodiversity.


Beyond their ecological footprint, the EMUs are a source of community engagement. The structures have become a destination for local snorkelers. Each dive reveals a dynamic ecosystem. This means the EMUs are not just erosion mitigation assets but are underwater gardens where the community explores, learns, and connects with the marine world.

Who are Reef Design Lab?

Reef Design Lab is a Melbourne-based multidisciplinary design company specialising in developing marine habitat infrastructure. The company caters to a mixed clientele, including architects, builders, governments, and research institutions, offering tailored solutions to enhance ecological diversity in marine and coastal environments.

The company has in-house design and fabrication capabilities, enabling it to research and experiment continuously. Reef Design Lab is mainly focused on advancing 3D printing and casting technologies. Collaboration is central to its operational ethos, emphasising the integration of insights from designers, scientists, and the community to foster a balanced interaction between constructed and natural environments.

Alex Goad, the director of Reef Design Lab, is an industrial designer focusing on marine restoration. He is committed to integrating digital fabrication with traditional techniques to develop habitat solutions that are both economically and environmentally considerate. The Melbourne team comprises professionals from various fields, including design, architecture, engineering, and fabrication, all united by a common interest in marine conservation.

The company’s work has been acknowledged through various awards and featured in the permanent collections of international institutions, including New York’s MoMA and the National Gallery of Victoria.

The impact of the EMUs specifically, though, has not gone unnoticed. The units have earned a prestigious spot on the Dezeen Awards’ longlist in the sustainable design category because of their contribution to ecological preservation and innovation. Reef Design Lab is now looking at future projects, promising enhanced designs and broader ecological impacts.


  • Reef Design Lab develops Erosion Mitigation Units (EMUs) for coastal erosion control and marine life enhancement.
  • EMUs are made from low-energy concrete and recycled oyster shells, promoting eco-friendliness and marine organism growth.
  • Installed near the City of Greater Geelong, offering stability and biodiversity.
  • The structures serve as a dynamic snorkeling destination, promoting community engagement.
  • Recognized in the Dezeen Awards for sustainable design.
  • Reef Design Lab explores future projects for global marine conservation and coastal development.
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