From 25 to 27 April 2023, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) hosted again the Coasts, Marine Structures, and Breakwaters conference (CMSB)—or Breakwaters for short, as it is sometimes named—at the Marriott Hotel in Portsmouth, UK. The CMSB conference series, held by the ICE for more than 30 years, is one of the leading international forums for the presentation of the latest developments in coastal and maritime engineering. Its previous edition, already the 11th conference in the series, took place in Liverpool from the 5 to 7 September 2017, and set the bar once again very high for its successor. The conference focused on the latest developments across maritime engineering topics from coasts to ports and waterfronts to breakwaters, while concentrating on the full spectrum of research, study, design, construction, and operations. In view of the ever-increasing attention on climate change, an additional spotlight was also placed on how resilience and adaptability are being addressed by the maritime sector. This communication reports on the 2023 CMSB conference, some of the insights and impressions gathered at the conference by the author, and the relevance of the presented material to the tackling of some of the important issues facing our coastal communities and broader environment today.
COASTS, MARINE STRUCTURES, AND BREAKWATERS (CMSB) CONFERENCE
The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Coasts, Marine Structures, and Breakwaters (CMSB) conference, held at the Marriott Hotel in Portsmouth, UK, from 25–27 April 2023 (Figure 1), brought together experts from across the world to discuss the latest research and development in the fields of coastal engineering, marine structures, and breakwaters. The conference began with several plenary sessions that highlighted the challenges of designing structures in extreme environments, such as a coastline. The need for innovative design techniques that consider the complex physical and environmental factors and combine solid engineering with ensuring biodiversity while still withstanding the impacts of wave loads, currents, and soil mechanics soon became apparent to all attending. Of perhaps special interest in this context was the paper and presentation on Protecting Portsmouth: The UK’s island city. This protection scheme comprises two ambitious coastal flood and erosion risk management projects that are currently progressing in Portsmouth. It immediately highlighted the complexities of delivering major coastal infrastructure projects, while also working with important heritage assets in a sensitive environment. Quite the Herculean task.
The ensuing presentation streams following the plenary sessions saw attendants immersed in a wide range of coastal topics that, because of the sheer volume, had to be spread out over several parallel sessions run through the 3 core days. There were streams on Caissons, Breakwaters, Risk Management, Rock Armour, Shoreline Change, Reclamations, Design Codes and Approaches, and many more. The breadth and width of coastal topics covered was truly impressive, and the knowledge of the speakers was second to none. It is impossible to pick only a few papers or presentations to give a true flavour of the conference, as it would not do justice to the other speakers. The reader is therefore directed to the Conference Proceedings that are still to be published by ICE Publishing in the near future (ICE Staff, 2023), but that will, again, become a sought-after reference work.
Throughout the conference, numerous opportunities occurred for networking and discussion, with attendees from academia, industry, and government agencies coming together to share their knowledge and expertise (Figure 2). In addition to the formal presentations, there were also various poster sessions and exhibitions showcasing some of the latest products and technologies in the fields of coastal engineering, marine structures, and breakwaters.
One of the key themes that emerged from the conference was the need for an integrated and holistic approach to coastal engineering, which considers not only the physical and environmental factors affecting marine structures and breakwaters, but also the social, economic, and cultural contexts in which they are situated. Speakers emphasized the importance of engaging with local communities and stakeholders to ensure that engineering solutions are sustainable, equitable, and effective. Several sessions also highlighted the importance of cross-organisational and international collaboration in addressing the global challenges facing coastal communities and ecosystems. Speakers from around the world shared their experiences and expertise, highlighting the diverse approaches and solutions that are being developed in different regions. Attendees were encouraged to build partnerships and networks with colleagues from other countries, to share knowledge and best practices, and to work together toward common goals.
The conference also featured several interactive spotlight events that were quick-fire presentations on a range of topics aligned to the themes of the conference, followed by questions and answers. This provided attendees with opportunities to engage in more detailed and focused discussions on specific topics. These sessions covered a wide range of themes, from the use of virtual reality (VR) for construction, monitoring, and modelling to the use of tracer pebbles.
Another highlight of the conference was a technical field trip to the nearby coastal town of Southsea, where attendees were fortunate enough to see some of the coastal infrastructure projects being developed in the area. The field trip included a visit to the Southsea Coastal Scheme, a major coastal defence project aimed at reducing flood risk along the town’s coastline. Attendees also had the opportunity to visit the Southsea Castle, a historic fortification located on a tidal island in the Solent, and to learn about its history and significance.
Overall, the CMSB conference was a highly informative and engaging event that provided valuable insights into the latest research and development in these important fields. Fields that all know—or certainly should know—are becoming ever more relevant to a broader audience as they all reside in the inextricably linked focal points of coastal protection, climate change, and net-zero. Attendees left with a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing coastal engineers and with new ideas and strategies for tackling some of the most pressing issues facing our coastal communities and ecosystems today. The CMSB conference was, as we have become accustomed to with the ICE, a highly engaging and informative event, providing attendees with a wealth of knowledge and insights on some of the most pressing issues facing our coastal communities and ecosystems. The conference served as a valuable platform for knowledge exchange and collaboration, bringing together experts from around the world to share their research, experiences, and best practices. The discussions and connections generated at the conference are sure to have a significant impact on the future of coastal engineering and on our ability to design and manage marine structures and breakwaters that are safe, sustainable, and effective in the face of an uncertain and rapidly changing climate. For those who were not fortunate enough to be able to attend, it can be encouraged only to start putting the pieces in place to attend the next one. Unfortunately for all of us, that will likely only be in 4 years from now; though that may seem a long time, this 2023 edition of the conference has once again spotlighted that a lot is happening in the subject field of CMSB, underscoring once again the relevance of this very topical conference. Here is hoping to see you all at the next one and looking forward to again many more engaging interactions there.
All opinions expressed in this contribution are attributable solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any of the companies or organisations he is affiliated with. The author is grateful to all of those with whom he has had the pleasure to exchange ideas and insights during the conference and wishes to thank the ICE for the organisation of this excellent conference and the quality of papers and speakers brought together. In addition, he wishes to thank Boskalis Westminster, Boskalis Nederland, and Boskalis België for the financial support toward the attendance of the conference and Blessyl Marie Navalatan for the encouragement and thoughtful review that led to the final version of this contribution.