Welcome! The Urban Marine Ecology (UME) Laboratory is a new and growing research lab led by Dr. Eliza Heery and located at the University of Washington Tacoma (School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Science).

Modeling Projects

Spatial modeling

Spatial analyses play a crucial role in urban ecology, providing insights into the patterns and processes that shape ecological dynamics within urban environments. These analyses involve the evaluation of spatial gradients, such as how species’ functional traits like body size vary across urban landscapes, and the luxury effect, which refers to a commonly observed correlation between biodiversity, wealth, race, and other sociodemographic variables that reflect to structural inequalities in urban areas on land.

Research into these patterns and their drivers has been ongoing for decades on land. But in the ocean, we’re only just starting to explore urban-related spatial gradients and the multiscale complexities introduced by human influence on nearshore marine environments.

Our spatial modeling projects in Urban Marine Ecology Lab at UWT are primarily coded in R and Python, but is also multidisciplinary in nature. Student researchers from computer science, urban studies and GIS certificate programs, social sciences, as well as other related backgrounds are encouraged to reach out if interested in learning more. 

five minute isochrone polygons shaded by neighboring benthic richness five minute isochrone polygons shaded by area-averaged household median income
Isochrone polygons for Tampa Bay from a recent study of luxury effects in the marine environment. The ‘luxury effect’ refers to the positive correlation commonly found on land in urban areas wherein biodiversity increases with increasing neighborhood wealth. The polygons in these images are the total area accessible by car within 5 min of shoreline locations where long-term monitoring is performed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. The polygons are shaded based on (left) benthic species richness at nearby marine sites, and (right) area-weighted average household median income for US Census block groups that they overlap. For both plots, darker areas correspond with the lowest values (low benthic richness and and low household median income).

Mathematical modeling

In addition to the spatial analyses described above, we apply a variety of mathematical modeling and statistical techniques to answer core questions about how urban marine ecosystems function and what impacts their ability to provide ecosystem services to urban communities. Often, this work is combined with field-based experiments that quantify key parameters needed for model parameterization (as in this project on seawall-based seaweed farms) or field surveys that help us discern between potential mechanisms behind a pattern we have discerned from mathematical models (as in the diving-based work that supported this analysis on urban octopus). 

Eco-Engineering Projects

Much of the eco-engineering work in our lab focuses on co-developing novel, small-scale uses of urban pest species (such as filamentous algal turfs and the invasive seaweed, Sargassum muticum) for eco-engineering, green building, and other applications. Our aim is help catalyze the development of new, community-owned technologies using marine species that negatively impact marine ecosystems in urban areas. We operate with the core principle that proceeds resulting from such technologies should go exclusively to the Indigenous communities who own the urban waters where we conduct our work, and to historically marginalized urban communities, whose access to safe marine resources is inhibited by urbanization, systemic racism, and colonial legacy.

Sargassum-based building materials

Sargassum muticum is an invasive rockweed (Phaeophyceae: Fucales) that poses significant threats to the recovery of native kelp forests. Originally from Asia, S. muticum has successfully colonized various coastal areas across the globe, owing to its robust growth, high reproductive rate, and ability to tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. In regions where it invades, it often creates dense, monotypic stands that can outcompete native kelps (Phaeophyceae: Laminariales) for light and space, rapidly absorbs limiting nutrients, and inhibit kelp forest recovery.

Sargassum muticum, an invasive seaweed in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: A. Kordesch

Understanding the mechanisms through which Sargassum muticum inhibits the recovery of kelp forests is crucial to inform management strategies and promote the resilience of these vital marine ecosystems. Some strategies that are being explored include the manual removal of Sargassum, creating reserves for kelp recovery, and developing uses for harvested Sargassum that could incentivize its control, such as the production of biomaterials like building insulation.

Photo of Sargassum muticum "thicket" from above
A “thicket” of Sargassum muticum taken while snorkeling.

Student researchers in Urban Marine Ecology Lab are currently working on several Sargassum-related projects, which emerged as part of a design thinking process with architects, planners, and builders in the Seattle area.

Photo taken during recent design thinking workshop
Scene from a design thinking workshop hosted by Urban Marine Ecology Lab at LMN’s The Shop in downtown Seattle in June 2023. Workshop participants included architects, planners, builders, and UWT student researchers, who worked collaboratively to identify novel ways of using Sargassum to advance sustainability and resilience in the built environment.
Photo of student interviewing a workshop participant
Student researchers interviewing designers during the June 2023 workshop.

During design thinking workshops, students actively engage design professionals through interviews and a series of facilitated exercises. We are deeply grateful to design thinking facilitator Mark Etem for developing the framework and activities for UME that are not informing excellent student research projects and building great new ideas for how to utilize and learn from the resilient life history of Sargassum.

Other eco-engineering projects

In addition to Sargassum insulation, there are several eco-engineering projects in earlier stages of development in the Urban Marine Ecology Lab at UWT. These include prototyping marine-based alternatives to “hempcrete” using seaweeds and colonial diatoms, developing algal turf scrubbers to help with absorption of excess nutrients on urban shorelines, and others. Contact us if you have questions or wish to connect!

We will be adding more to this site as findings emerge and new members join Urban Marine Ecology Lab – so stay tuned!

In the meantime, please also feel free to reach out by email at eheery at, or via the Contact page.