A series of structures designed to fight erosion will mimic a coral reef.

SARASOTA — A new pilot project will test whether a “living seawall” might be the future of the city’s fight against erosion along the waterfront on Sarasota Bay.

The $300,000 project will be in addition to the traditional seawall currently under construction along the edge of City Island at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill and is designed to create a new home for marine life there, city officials said.

Instead of a traditional seawall’s flat concrete construction, the living seawall will form a series of underwater structures intended to mimic a coral reef to provide new places for creatures to grow and live, Sustainability Manager Stevie Freeman-Montes said. Without them, organisms would have trouble attaching to the traditional wall and deflected waves could prevent seagrass growth, she added.

“There have been a lot of studies that show flat seawalls can have negative environmental impacts because they don’t create habitat; they actually take away habitat,” she said. “What’s naturally a very active habitat zone with a natural shoreline is suddenly prevented.”

Last week the City Commission approved a $46,000 contract with locally based Reef Innovations to design a concept for the living seawall. The company has created breakwaters and artificial reefs all over the world, including dozens of reef sites and docks throughout Sarasota County waters over the past 20 years.

The project has been two years in the making after the city started work on plans to build a seawall along the edge of O’Leary’s when erosion scraped away the natural beach there and began threatening trees around the bar and patio. That $487,000 project has been under construction this summer and is on track to be completed by the end of September, City Manager Tom Barwin said.

Due to the environmental concerns about stark seawalls, city leaders considered the site as a pilot area to test the effects of a living seawall, Barwin and Freeman-Montes said.

They have brought in Mote Marine Laboratories to monitor the project for two years to identify what kind of marine life it attracts and how much, along with how it deflects waves that could otherwise undermine the seawalls, officials said.

If Mote’s studies demonstrate the living seawall works, the city could consider adding “living” elements to other seawalls throughout the area, Barwin said.

“In situations like this, where you’ve got human assets at risk, you may have to still put traditional seawalls in behind it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it beautiful in front of it and make the interface between the land and the sea look more natural and make it visually appealing,” said Todd Barber, chairman of The Reef Ball Foundation, which creates these artificial systems with Reef Innovations.

Last year the groups completed a similar project along the city of Palmetto’s Riverside Park West.