Biorock Technology to Boost Coral Regeneration

Barbados has suffered massive coral mortality on the vibrant fringing reefs that once lined the south and west coasts. Now the almost entirely dead reef is overgrown with weedy algae, which are over-fertilized by land-based sources of nutrients. As a result, the biodiversity, fish habitat, sand production, protection of beaches from erosion, and attractiveness as snorkelling habitat for ecotourism, all services that only live growing reefs can provide, have largely collapsed.

The BlueGreen Initiative in association with the Global Coral Reef Alliance will be embarking on a reef restoration pilot project using Biorock technology to grow solid limestone out of seawater, accelerate coral growth, and create fish habitat is therefore being proposed along the Barbados West Coast. This pilot project aims to create new coral reef and fish habitat in front of an existing virtually dead reef. It is envisioned that this pilot project will point the way to improved coastal habitat restoration in Barbados. 

The technology is an innovative process originally invented in 1976 to produce natural building materials in the sea. These materials are the only marine construction material that grow, get stronger with age, and are self-repairing. It is a unique method that allows coral reefs, and other marine ecosystems including seagrass, salt marsh, mangrove, and oyster reefs to survive and recover from damage caused by excessive nutrients, climate change, and physical destruction by greatly increasing the settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to stresses, including high temperature and pollution, of all marine organisms. As a result, ecosystems are kept alive when they would otherwise die from severe stress and restore them at record rates where there has been no natural recovery.

The process uses electrically conductive materials like ordinary steel to build structures in the sea. With the technology, the steel is completely protected from corrosion. When grown slowly (less than 1‐2 centimetres per year) this material is around three times stronger than concrete made from ordinary Portland cement. Biorock reefs grown in front of severely eroding beaches have caused them to grow by up to 50 feet in a few years this however is conditional upon the type of sediment transport occurring at the site. This technology, originally developed in Jamaica, and applied in more than 20 countries around the world, has never yet been used in Barbados.

More remarkably however, corals transplanted onto these structures grow 2-6 times faster than normal, have greatly increased survival from environmental stress, and quickly create habitat that attracts large schools of juvenile fish. The pilot project will create new coral and fish habitat in front of and on top of the reef, thereby effectively widening the reef, adding new habitat, and acting to slow waves down further from the shore, thereby reducing erosion of the beach.  The total amount of power used by the project will be less than what an air conditioner uses. The voltage will likely be no more than 6 volts, similar to a flashlight.

This is the first project of its kind in Barbados.