As coral reefs around the world continue to disappear, one Florida town has taken the initiative by investing $60,000 to stimulate coral reef growth using electricity. While there is not yet peer-reviewed evidence to suggest that using a low powered electrical current works, scientists are not dismissing the idea. The company that has been hired to make the reefs claims that they have had many prior successes. [social_buttons]
The town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea has hired the company Global Coral Reef Alliance to construct the artificial reefs. The group is licensed to use the technology made by a company known as Biorock. What Biorock makes are steel frames suitable for underwater use that have a strength comparable to concrete. A low power electrical current is run through the frames and helps to stimulate the growth of limestone rock and corals (it does not harm animals). You can see some photos of Biorock’s technology by clicking here.
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s plan is to have six of these structures located off of its beach, in close proximity to a reef that has been deteriorating. They will be in the shape of airplane hangers and will be about 6 feet in length. Two buoys that would be placed directly above the water’s surface would collect solar energy using panels, and distribute the low power electricity current below. Corals from nearby areas that are still alive, yet isolated, would be added to the frames to help increase the speed of reef growth.
The plan still needs to be permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. Several conservationists with ties to the area first proposed the idea, and it is hoped that restored reefs would help generate tourism for the town. It has been known in the past for having easy beach access for viewing coral reefs– a key plus for scuba divers and tour groups.
What is not clear is whether or not the use of an electrical current actually works to stimulate growth of corals. The Sun Sentinel writes the following:
John McManus, director of the National Center for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami, said there’s no doubt steel frames will grow coral, if only because they provide a surface off the murky floor of the ocean. But while a mild electric current stimulates coral growth initially, he said it’s unclear whether the benefit continues after the coral has thickened enough to block the current. Most important, he said, there have been no studies comparing electrified steel structures with identical structures without electricity. “There’s not much evidence to say it’s worth putting the electricity through,” he said. “It’s probably not going to do any harm. It might do some good.”
The Global Coral Reef Alliance and Biorock on the other hand, claim that their technology and reefs have been successful. They have built reefs around the world in the waters of countries like Mexico, Panama, Thailand, and Indonesia.
In any case, it’s great to see a Florida community doing their best to help restore coral reefs. Reefs are threatened on a major scale because of global climate change and pollution, among other significant causes.
Levi Novey is a conservation professional who has received a bachelor's degree in History from Tufts University and a master's degree in Conservation Social Sciences from the University of Idaho. He worked for the U.S. National Park Service for 10 years, as a park ranger in 6 national parks, as a social science researcher in 5 parks, and as the science communicator for a Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Network that serves 9 parks. He has authored several scholarly papers as well as several guidebooks to U.S. national parks. Levi also has taught an undergraduate Environmental Communication Skills course at the University of Idaho, won several photography contests, and regularly enjoys visits to parks, protected areas, historical sites, museums-- and just about anywhere where he can learn something new about the world. He currently lives in Peru, with his wife Alicia, and their daughter Coral.