The Biorock Process or mineral accretion is a technology used to grow structures and marine ecosystems in seawater. It provides a cost-effective and sustainable method to accelerate coral growth and increase coral survival particularly in areas where environmental stress has affected existing reefs. Biorock methods can help restore damaged coral reefs and provide building materials from sustainable energy resources for mariculture of corals, oysters, clams, lobsters and fish. When mixed with aggregates, accreted minerals can be used as building components on the sea bottom or on land.
In an attempt to slow the damage done to the world’s coral, artificial reefs have been built since the 1950s out of materials ranging from concrete blocks to discarded tires. However, most of these plans have failed to provide a new coral habitat, and one such artificial reef off the shore of Fort Lauderdale has become a complete environmental disaster. There have been some successes with artificial reefs, but most remain relatively barren compared with natural reefs. The one notable exception is the work of marine biologist Thomas J. Goreau and engineer/architect Wolf Hilbertz, who have been experimenting with a new type of artificial reef for over a decade.
The technology, elegant in its simplicity, is called Biorock. It arose from experiments in the 1970s when Hilbertz was studying how seashells and reefs grow, by passing electrical currents through sea water. What he found was that as the sea water electrolyzes, calcium carbonate (Aragonite) slowly forms around the cathode, eventually coating the electrode with a material as strong as concrete. Later experiments showed that the coatings could be grown at up to a thickness of 5cm per year. As long as the power is flowing, the structure would continue to get larger and stronger as time passed. It can also heal itself if damaged, something ordinary concrete can’t do.
Hilbertz’s original plan was to use this technology to grow low-cost structures in the ocean for developing countries, however his focus shifted to coral reefs after meeting a marine biologist. Because the Biorock process uses such simple materials, electrode forms can be constructed in a variety of shapes to mimic natural reefs. Because the calcium carbonate coating that forms is so similar to natural reef substrate, corals take to the Biorock reefs very readily. In fact, other experiments were conducted to see if the electrical current was harming the coral at all and the results were surprising; the coral actually thrived on the electrified reef.
Due to electrolysis, corals on ark reefs gain energy affecting growth, reproduction and their ability to resist environmental stress. These reefs grow rapidly and get stronger as they age. And unlike some other types of artificial reefs made from cars or tires for example, Biorock reefs don't leach harmful pollutants into the sea.
The Biorock Process is the only known technology that can sustain corals through warming water temperatures.
As of 2008, Biorock coral reef projects exist in over 15 countries (and mainly in Maldives, Seychelles, Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Panama and, in one of the most remote and unexplored reef areas of the world, Saya de Malha Banks in the Indian Ocean and represent the only restoration method known that can sustain and grow natural coral species using only basic elements. These incredible structures not only grow with time but also assist damaged coral in healing while increasing growth rates up to 5 times faster than normal.
Guardians of the Electric Reef: In Bali's Idyllic North-West Corner, a Unique Community-Driven Marine Conservation Project Is Using Electricity to Rapidly Regrow Damaged Coral Reef and Restore Local Livelihoods. Might This Technology and Its Profound Success Be a Route to Helping Save the Earth's Vital Coral Gardens?
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