[Coral-List] Of Artificial Reefs, Corporate Bodies & Reef

Eric Borneman eborneman at uh.edu
Fri Sep 18 13:48:52 EDT 2009

Hello Bart, Todd and list:

I find myself responding to this because of the number of "artificial  
reefs" and "restoration" projects that are being proposed in Southeast  
Asia and noting Bart's location in Malaysia. I was asked repeatedly  
about this at the WOC/CTI in Manado earlier this year, and it seems as  
though many such projects are being proposed or initiated without  
always having good information. It became clear that many such project  
managers or parties interested in putting in artificial reef  
structure, notably Reef Balls and Reef-Ball like projects, get the  
impression that simply by putting out structure that they will be able  
to have coral reefs grow right offshore. They do not always seem to  
recognize that the conditions of the site are inappropriate for coral  
growth or that environmental conditions that caused the local decline/ 
degradation have not been mitigated, but that somehow, magically, by  
throwing out some concrete that coral reefs will start to grow on it  
and not on nearby degraded reef substrate.

This became most apparent to me at Racha Island, Thailand, where a  
Reef Ball project was done. The resort seemed very proud of their  
effort and promoted it as a tourist dive/snorkel site, and yet very  
healthy reefs with large corals and high recruitment were literally  
10-30m from the Reef Balls. The Reef Balls themselves were nearly  
devoid of any coral settlement, despite the high recruitment on the  
coastal cliff adjacent to it. Many of the balls were almost completely  
buried, shattered and broken, and were not providing fish habitat to  
any degree compared to the real reef just meters away.

I have photos here of the natural recruitment in the bay where the  
project is:

Here of the reef literally 10m from one of the Reef Ball arrays and  
one of fish associating with live Porites:

And here of some of the Reef Balls:

This is not a general negative position I hold regarding the many  
iterations of restoration, or toward Reef Balls in general, and I  
don't even want to enter the corporate argument, but it seems that the  
enthusiasm for such projects might in many cases outweigh the actual  
functional need or benefit, and I would hate to see countries pouring  
limited resources into expensive projects that may not be the best use  
of money or labor and, in some cases, could actually be deleterious to  
the surrounding habitat. A company can make an apparently easy sell of  
an artificial reefs that many are jumping towards as a "solution,"  
when in fact conservation or restoration of original habitat may be  
more appropriate.

Eric Borneman
Dept. of Biology and Biochemistry
University of Houston

On Sep 17, 2009, at 10:30 AM, Todd Barber wrote:

> Hi Sebastian,
> The Reef Ball Foundation has a certification program where either
> mitigations or reef rehabilitation efforts are certified as using  
> "best
> practices" and having followed the processes outlined in the Step by  
> Step
> Guide to Reef Rehabiltation that we wrote to ensure grassroots (or  
> private
> non-scientific efforts) follow process steps that set defined goals  
> for a
> project, quantify them, designs approaches to accomplish them, and  
> then
> monitors and adjusts against those goals and measurements.
> While this process is not perfect and is continually being refined  
> (as new
> science and practical experiances allow), it does help guide  
> projects to
> successful implementation of reef rehabilitation efforts.
> Obviously, in this case, Panasonic did not contact us for guidance or
> certification or for example they would have found that any plastic  
> product
> (PVC) is not an acceptable material for grassroots efforts.  (And we  
> are not
> making value judgments on if PVC is usefully as scientists may find  
> so in
> specific situations...what we ARE saying is that Grassroots and  
> private
> organizations should not use certain materials that are known to  
> have had
> problems in the past...in the case of PVC disassociation, movement,  
> and
> MARPOL legal violations are just a few of the issues).
> As a certifying public non-profit organization, we encourage all of  
> you as
> scientists to bear pressure on projects involving reef  
> rehabilitation with
> questionable motives, skills, resources, or knowledge to contact us  
> (or any
> other qualified reef rehabilitation entity) and to obtain proper  
> guidance.
> In our view, ANY resources that are attempting to aid our reef  
> ecosystems
> can be helpful.....as long as we all band together to make sure the  
> efforts
> are at least in the right direction and have little or no downside  
> effects
> on the ecosystem.  Most efforts just need good guidance!
> Thanks,
> Todd R. Barber
> Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
> www.reefball.org
> 252-353-9094
> Skype name: toddbarber
> Cell Phone 941-720-7549
> 3305 Edwards Court
> Greenville, NC 27858
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> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Sebastian Ferse" <sferse at aol.com>
> To: <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 3:46 PM
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Of Artificial Reefs, Corporate Bodies & Reef
> Dear Bart!
> The idea of having large companies such as Panasonic going into reef
> restoration as part of their corporate social responsibility to me  
> seems
> controversial, as I see the danger that it is being used to promote  
> a green
> image of the company (that's the whole idea) and thus is being widely
> advertised, most likely without sufficient accompanying information,  
> which
> might foster the idea of reefs being easily handled and 'reforested'
> ecosystems to the public mind.
> Although I agree that in cases where companies are responsible for  
> reef
> degradation (even remotely), they should consider doing something to  
> reverse
> or reduce their impact, reef restoration is a complex issue that is  
> not
> easily tackled. I believe that in many cases, education and better
> management will have a more profound impact on reef health than  
> 'sexy' feats
> like coral transplantation. There certainly are cases where active
> restoration is warranted and needed, but the science involved is  
> usually a
> lot more complex than what companies can aim for in CSR projects -  
> some
> exceptions are possible, of course.
> While the objectives described in the article ('encourage and  
> stimulate the
> diverse marine life and corals to form and regenerate; assist in  
> rebuilding
> the ocean's complex ecological system; expose and educate the public  
> on the
> effects of coral depletion and its negative impact on the oceans;  
> keep track
> of and examine previously planted artificial reefs; carry out ocean  
> cleaning
> and other environmental activities') are laudable enough, their  
> choice of
> material for artificial reefs (PVC tubes) to me seems suboptimal at  
> best.
> Benthic organisms may grow on it, but I doubt that it is robust and  
> heavy
> enough to withstand strong currents, swells, or storms. If that's  
> the case,
> Panasonic may be repeating the tire-reef disaster off the Florida  
> coast (or
> at least they may not succeed in providing long-lasting structures).  
> Several
> other established methods, such as BioRocks, EcoReefs or ReefBalls,  
> probably
> are more suitable for their goals.
> All the technicalities aside, there remains the issue of what kind  
> of image
> is being created if big companies go into reef restoration as a sort  
> of PR
> stunt.
> Coral reefs are delicate and complex systems, and a thorough and
> context-relevant understanding is needed to manage them. I am afraid  
> that
> this aspect may get lost if big companies discover them as a  
> playground for
> their CSR programs.
> Best regards,
> Sebastian
> _________________________
> Dr. Sebastian Ferse
> Leibniz Zentrum für Marine Tropenökologie (ZMT)
> Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology
> Fahrenheitstrasse 6
> D-28359 Bremen
> Germany
> Phone: +49-421-238 00 28
> Fax: +49-421-238 00 30
> Mobile: +49-1577-237 9259
> e-mail: sebastian.ferse at zmt-bremen.de
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