Quantcast

Could Artificial Reefs Save Our Oceans?

Popular
Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

The Smithsonian Institution calls coralline algae "the unsung architects of coral reefs." These pink-colored seaweed, with a skeletal structure that resembles honeycomb, live in harmony with coral.

They strengthen the corals' foundation by growing over and between gaps in coral reefs, essentially gluing sections of coral together. They provide a surface for baby corals to settle, and serve as food for marine life, including sea urchins, parrot fish and mollusks.


"They promote biodiversity and coastal protection," said Chiara Lombardi, a scientist with the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA). "Also, they play an active role in the carbon cycle."

The bad news, however, is that, like coral, they are vulnerable to the ravages of climate change and ocean acidification.

"They become more fragile, and they bleach, and they aren't able to create a healthy habitat for biodiversity," Lombardi said. "Thus, their survival and, as a cascading effect, the survival of the associated species, is at risk."

Lombardi and her colleagues, including Federica Ragazzola, a marine biologist at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, initiated an unusual experiment recently to try to protect these algae—scientific name Ellisolandia elongatafrom increasing harm.

Last month, they installed the first of several artificial coralline algae reefs—made of highly elastic rubber material—near real coralline algae reefs in the Gulf of La Spezia, in northwest Italy. The goal is that these plastic mimics—as the artificial reefs are known—which look and move like the real thing, will shelter and host the tiny creatures who typically live on the algae, and also will become scaffolds for real coralline algae to grow.

Artificial corallineGiancarlo Raiteri, Marine Environment Research Centre ENEA, La Spezia, Italy

The 60 synthetic mini reefs, each with 20 fronds, are just 10 centimeters (approx. 3.9 inches) in diameter, making them easy to place in a natural reef. Snorkelers attached the artificial reefs using epoxy resin. Hampered by bad weather, they had to make three separate runs to finish the job. "The resin needs 24 hours to become hard, so if waves occur during this period, the risk of detachment is very high," Lombardi said.

The material's properties are similar to that of the algae and non-toxic to the marine ecology. The mimics won't ultimately become plastic ocean litter. "After one year of exposure, they will be removed and brought to the laboratory" for further experiments, Lombardi said.

Researches installed artificial reefs to test their ability to attract marine micro-fauna. Giancarlo Raiteri, Marine Environment Research Centre ENEA, La Spezia, Italy

The research will "clarify the function of the coralline algae reef as a buffer for diversity, abundance, reproductive, ecological and structural characteristics of the associated fauna," Lombardi said. The results "will be important for the planning of future protection and management strategies."

This is not the first time artificial "substrates" have been used experimentally, but they have never before been made to mimic the properties of natural algae. "The majority of the studies simulating reef are mainly focused on corals," Lombardi said. She stressed the importance of preserving algae.

"They provide services that will benefit human lives," Lombardi said. "They are a resource, not only for marine life. We tend to consider protection of nature very far from human beings—but we are all connected, and it is important to understand this connection. Protecting the natural ecosystem will benefit the lives of all future generations."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Greenpeace activists unfurl banners after building a wood and card 'oil pipeline' outside the Canadian High Commission, Canada House, to protest against the Trudeau government's plans to build an oil pipeline in British Colombia on April 18, 2018 in London. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

In an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, 42 Nobel laureates implored the federal government to "act with the moral clarity required" to tackle the global climate crisis and stop Teck Resources' proposed Frontier tar sands mine.

Read More
Mapping Urban Heat through Portland State University / video

Concrete and asphalt absorb the sun's energy. So when a heat wave strikes, city neighborhoods with few trees and lots of black pavement can get hotter than other areas — a lot hotter.

Read More
Sponsored
Pexels

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, meaning your body can't produce it. Yet, it has many roles and has been linked to impressive health benefits.

Read More
The Rio San Antonio, in the headwaters basin of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, will lose federal protections under a new rule. Bob Wick / BLM California

By Tara Lohan

The Santa Fe River starts high in the forests of New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo mountains and flows 46 miles to the Rio Grande. Along the way it plays important roles for wildlife, irrigation, recreation and other cultural uses, and provides 40 percent of the water supply for the city of Santa Fe's 85,000 residents.

Read More
Climate activists protest Chase Bank's continued funding of the fossil fuel industry on May 16, 2019 by setting up a tripod-blockade in midtown Manhattan, clogging traffic for over an hour. Michael Nigro / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.

Read More