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by Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest areas and highest biodiversity of coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grass ecosystems, continued to be the major focus of GCRA activities in 2018, in collaboration with our local partner, Biorock Indonesia.
Sulawesi is the centre of global marine species diversity, the “heart of the heart” of the richest variety of species in the world’s oceans. The GCRA team, working with Take Action Films, a Toronto documentary group, filmed spectacular coral reefs in North Sulawesi. We found, and removed, Crown of Thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) eating corals in the finest reefs. Although these reefs have the highest live coral cover and diversity in the world, they are not invulnerable to stresses caused by humans, in particular global warming and new diseases. 10 Biorock reefs at Pulau Gangga Dive Resort, which had been off power for around 8 years, were put back under power and immediately began growing again, with spectacular corals and fishes. The severely eroded beach at southwestern Pulau Gangga, which Biorock shore protection reefs grew back naturally at record rates (at a fraction of the cost of a seawall that would have increased erosion in front of it), continued to grow wider, higher, and longer throughout 2018, throughout the monsoon season when it would previously erode. Corals are settling on the Biorock structures and growing very rapidly, as are the surrounding seagrasses, while fishes, sea urchins, barnacles, oysters, and crabs have built up dense populations. A second severely eroded beach on another side of the same island was grown back in months during the erosion season with Biorock shore protection reefs built by Paulus Prong and a local team trained by GCRA. These projects were shown to the Mayor of the local fishing village, which is suffering severe beach erosion and flooding of land because of death of their shallow coral reefs, and community-managed Biorock shore protection, reef restoration, and sustainable mariculture projects were discussed.
Over a hundred Biorock reefs, each a different size and shape, continue to grow and provide fish habitat, creating an ecotourism attraction that has turned Pemuteran village from the poorest on the island to one of the most prosperous. The Biorock projects have received many international environmental awards, including the United Nations Equator Award for Community Based Development and the Special UNDP Award for Oceans and Coastal Management. Biorock reefs increased live coral cover from around 1-5% after the severe bleaching event of 1998, up to 95-99% in less than ten years, with spectacular coral settlement and growth, increasing the biodiversity of corals and fishes above what it had originally been before the bleaching event. Another severe bleaching event in 2016, coincident with severe damage from heavy waves, and severe infestations of coral-eating Crown of Thorns starfish and Drupella snails, decreased the live coral cover of nearby reefs below 5%. The Biorock projects showed an interesting pattern. Biorock reefs under continuous electrical trickle charge had almost no coral mortality during the bleaching event, while those under power only 6-8 hours a day suffered almost complete coral mortality, like surrounding reefs. Similar results were seen at around a hundred Biorock projects at Gili Trawangan run by our local partner, the Gili Eco Trust, headed by Delphine Robbe. Community-based Biorock projects in Pejarakan, Bali had almost complete survival through the severe bleaching event that caused nearly complete mortality on nearby reefs. These results reiterate what was found in the Maldives in 1998, and Thailand in 2010, that Biorock is the only method that saves entire reefs from dying from bleaching, if they are under continuous power. Biorock Coral Arks are helping save around half the world’s coral species from extinction from global warming. The Biorock Centre team in Pemuteran, led by Komang Astika, has been vigorously propagating corals, and there has been high natural settlement of new corals in the Biorock electrical fields, which is not seen further away. Young corals are growing vigorously and the Biorock team is growing back reef coral cover and diversity once again. The Pemuteran Sea Festival in mid-December drew crowds of thousands of people, and more than 50 divers joined in to install a stunning new Biorock reef, in the form of Barong and Rangda, the two characters of the quintessential Balinese myth. This new structure was dedicated to the memory of the late Agung Prana, owner of Taman Sari Resort in Pemuteran, a leader of Balinese ecotourism based on restoring beautiful gardens on both land and in the sea. Without him these projects would not have happened. Within a day most of the rust on the new steel structure had disappeared, limestone began growing on it, and new coral growth was visible.
Last year Indonesia was for a few brief weeks the world’s largest CO2 emitter when drought conditions led to massive fires in peat soil that had been clear cut for oil palm plantations. GCRA and Biorock Indonesia assessed illegally cut mangroves in East Kalimantan (Borneo), with Willie Smits and the Arsari Enviro Industri team. We will work with them to use Biorock Technology to greatly increase rates of above and below ground growth of mangroves, ameliorate soil acidity, reverse peat oxidation, create huge carbon sinks, provide orangutan sanctuaries, and produce biofuels from the endemic swamp palm Nypa fruticans, which produces as much energy from sustainable tapping of flower stalks as sugar cane does, and without cutting down the plant. These projects are planned to start next year, as well as projects to grow corals 20 kilometers up-river, which enormous tides make salty enough for coral growth. These projects may allow Indonesia, which has the world’s largest and most diverse mangroves and sea grasses, to restore mangrove and sea grass peat soils and hopefully become the world’s largest and most cost-effective carbon sink.
The Biorock Ambon team held training workshops, installed new Biorock structures with local participants, and maintained the older projects in Halong, Ambon Bay. Ambon Bay was once famous for its clear waters and spectacular coral gardens. Corals were among the thousands of Ambon plants and animals described by the great blind naturalist Rumphius in the 1600s, and in the 1800s Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of Evolution, was astonished to look over the side of a boat at coral reefs that were just as magnificent and beautiful ecosystems as the Indonesian forests he studied, but he could not go into the water to see them. Since then, deforestation, agriculture, urbanization, sewage, garbage, and plastics have killed almost all the coral reefs in Ambon Bay, with the last remaining remnant in Halong. Biorock projects are now bringing them back.
The Biorock Indonesia team, led by Prawita Tasya Karissa and Ricky Soerapoetra, met with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and the United Nations Development Program to plan future large-scale reef and fisheries restoration projects all across Indonesia. A collaborative research program was formally signed with the Institut Pertanian Bogor (Bogor Agricultural University), which will be led by two of Indonesia’s leading young coral researchers, Hawis Maduppa and Beginer Subhan, who both did their Master’s thesis on Biorock projects.
100 Biorock projects at Gili Trawangan were affected by the severe earthquake that hit Lombok. There was no electricity for months, and many power supplies were lost under collapsing buildings. While there was little damage to the Biorock reefs themselves, nearby reef blocks broke loose and slid downslope. Delphine Robbe of the Gili Eco Trust, the local GCRA partner, has led heroic efforts under difficult circumstances to repair the damage and get the Biorock projects back under power.
Six new Biorock coral reefs were built and installed in Cozumel, the world’s most popular dive site, in collaboration with the Cozumel Coral Reef Restoration Foundation, funded by Minecraft. These are illuminated at night with LED lights, attracting zooplankton, fishes, and squids.
Sites along the Costa Maya, the east coast of Yucatan, from Cancun to Mahahual, were assessed for water quality problems, resulting from tourism over-development and failure to treat sewage, which are causing rapid death of the corals by smothering from harmful algae blooms and coral diseases. Algae were collected for nutrient analysis to identify the sources of pollution causing their proliferation. This work was done with Mexican diving organizations, including Sea Shepherds Mexico, and Mexican algae experts, including Pamela Herrera.
Plans moved forward to develop some of the world’s largest tidal energy resources, in the Sea of Cortes territories of the Comca’ac people, Mexico’s smallest and most remarkable indigenous culture. Expected to start next year they will produce electricity, water from desalination, and Biorock building materials, and develop sustainable mariculture of endemic endangered marine species.
Meetings were held with Guna Indian representatives to plan Biorock coral reef shore protection projects to protect their islands from severe erosion. A quarter of the 50 inhabited islands are now being abandoned because they can no longer be protected from global sea level rise, making their people climate change refugees. Biorock will also be used to restore coral reef fisheries habitat, especially for the lobsters on which the Guna economy depends, and to develop sustainable ecotourism. GCRA’s study of coral reefs in front of the Panama Canal was used by the Panamanian environmental law group Centro de Incidencia Ambiental to get a Panamanian Supreme Court order issued to halt the dredging for landfill 100 meters away that threatened these reefs. The developers have ignored the legal orders.
GRENADA & CARRIACOU
GCRA, the Grenada Coral Reef Foundation, and the Grenada Fisheries Department Marine Protected Area Programme held Biorock training workshops for local students and fishermen, in Gouyave, Grenada’s largest fishing village, and in Carriacou, the largest island of the Grenadines. At each site eight Biorock reefs were built and installed by workshop participants. It is planned to greatly expand these projects in the coming year.
GCRA assessed severe coastal erosion sites in Maui where beaches have washed away, cliffs are collapsing, and condominiums, houses, and roads are on the verge of collapsing into the sea. Traditional sea wall and breakwater strategies have proven repeatedly to be costly failures. GCRA is proposing use of Biorock shore protection reefs with local partners, and met with local regulatory agencies to evaluate the barriers to getting permission to use much lower cost and much more effective Biorock strategies to grow back beaches and restore coral reefs.
At the Amsterdam International Summit on Fisheries and Mariculture Tom Goreau gave an invited keynote talk on “Biorock Technology: A Novel Tool for Large-Scale Whole-Ecosystem Sustainable Mariculture Using Direct Biophysical Stimulation of Marine Organisms’ Biochemical Energy Metabolism”.
GCRA repaired storm damage to cables at the Biorock Elkhorn reef in Westmoreland, Jamaica, strengthening the structure and adding more corals. This is the first Biorock coral restoration project in 25 years in Jamaica, where the technology was originally invented and developed. Proposals were prepared with the Caribbean Maritime University, Portland Bight Marine Protected Area, Caribbean Coastal Areas Management Foundation, and the Half Moon Bay Fishermens’ Cooperative to use Biorock shore protection reefs to grow back Jamaica’s most important recreational beach at Hellshire, St. Catherine, which has entirely washed away, and to restore the dead reef that used to protect it.
At the SIDS DOCK Side Event “Blue Guardians: Building Partnerships for the SIDS Blue Economy” in Apia, at the United Nations Inter-Regional Meeting for Small Island Developing States Tom Goreau gave an invited keynote talk on “Recharging SIDS coral reefs, fisheries, sea grass, mangroves, beaches, low coasts and islands, and producing CO2-removing construction material”. He met with the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, looked at community-managed Giant Clam farms that could greatly benefit from Biorock Technology, and had meetings to develop sustainable mariculture, reef restoration, and shore protection projects in Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Fiji, Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and the Cook Islands.
At the Global Eco Asia Pacific Tourism Conference in Townsville Tom Goreau gave an invited keynote talk on “Ecotourism Can Help Save Indonesia’s Coral Reefs”, showing how devastated reefs, beaches, and fisheries have been restored by Biorock Indonesia in front of Indonesian hotels. He pointed out for every reef we save, thousands are being lost, but if every hotel were legally mandated to restore the dead reefs in front of their eroding beaches, tourism could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. GCRA worked with Dr. Peter Bell of the University of Queensland (who discovered that land-based sources of nutrients from agricultural fertilizers, cattle farms, and sewage had killed around three quarters of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals even before coral bleaching killed most of the rest, as Tom Goreau had accurately predicted 20 years ago) to re-evaluate the changes to the coral reefs at Low Isle. Low Isle is unique in the history of coral reefs, because it was intensively studied in 1928-1929 by the Cambridge University Great Barrier Reef Expedition, led by Sir Maurice Yonge, who adopted the Goreau family as his scientific heirs. Low Isle, and many other reefs in the Great Barrier Reef, were first photographed underwater, and from the air, in 1950, by Fritz Goreau. They were photographed again in 1967 by his son Thomas F. Goreau, and again in 1998 by his son Thomas J. F. Goreau. These photographic records, unknown in Australia, show dramatic long-term changes in the coral reefs before any Australian coral reef scientists began to study them. The GCRA team also looked at coastal fringing coral reefs with local Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal communities, who had seen their reefs and sea grasses killed by mud and nutrients washed in from sugar cane farms, and with local organic farmer Andre Leu who has increased his soil carbon six-fold, greatly increasing soil water storage during recent record high temperatures and droughts, and greatly reducing soil erosion and nutrient loss onto the coral reefs. Meetings were held with Great Barrier Reef Heritage and local groups trying to protect the Great Barrier Reef’s last corals, to develop educational exhibits of changes in reef conditions over the last 90 years and to restore them.
GCRA PHOTO ARCHIVES & FILM
GCRA’s Margaret Goreau has begun to scan the Goreau collection of coral reef photographs from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the world’s largest. They show a lost world that had largely vanished before any other diving scientists saw it. These will form part of full-length documentary film that shows the changes in reefs around the world since they were first documented, the causes of their deterioration, and how deterioration can be reversed. Take Action Films, a Toronto-based documentary film group directed by Andrew Nisker, was funded by the Canadian Government to film the long-term changes shown by this unique photograph collection. Take Action films recently released a documentary, Ground Wars, on the environmental and health impacts of golf course chemicals, featuring Tom Goreau and James Cervino of GCRA showing the impacts of golf course fertilizers and chemicals killing corals on Bahamas reefs by causing overgrowth by harmful algae blooms and coral disease epidemics.
Tom Goreau met with the Ahiarmiut Inuit community in Arviat, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. They were the only inland Inuit people, known as the “Caribou Eskimo” or the “People of the Deer”. He brought photographs taken in 1954 by his grandfather, of the last year that the Ahiarmiut people lived on their ancestral tundra lands, just before they were starved out by the collapse of the caribou populations caused by over-hunting. Three of the oldest people in the community, shown in the photographs as young people or children, were still alive, remembered his grandfather well, and could identify all the people in the photographs. Plans were developed to seek funds to scan the entire photograph collection to be made available to the community, who were overjoyed to see them. Discussions were also held about their experiences of climate change, in one of the fastest warming parts of the world. The seasons have dramatically changed because of global warming, new plants, animals, birds, and insects are invading the tundra from the south. Despite global warming, this is one of the few places NOT experiencing global sea level rise. The land is rising rapidly, bouncing back up from the melting of 3 kilometers of ice at the end of the last Ice Age, so islands that were only reachable by boat are now part of the mainland, the rivers that they used to kayak up to hunt caribou are now too shallow, vast numbers of ponds are now drying up, the organic peat on their bottoms are oxidizing and feeding CO2 into the atmosphere, the period of snow cover is decreasing and the vegetation becoming taller, so the land absorbs much more heat. Their entire way of life is threatened by global warming.
NEW YORK CITY
The Biorock oyster and salt marsh restoration projects by James Cervino, Rand Weeks, and Tom Goreau successfully restored these ecosystems at the Superfund toxic waste dump at College Point, Queens, New York City and built up a new beach over 11 years that was not damaged by Hurricane Sandy, which caused tremendous erosion elsewhere. In 2018, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which had permitted the oyster and salt marsh restoration project, built a huge storm drain that flushed contaminated runoff straight onto the beach we had built up over 11 years, and washed it away with huge erosional gully in just a few months. We are trying to get them to mitigate the damages.
UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE TALANOA DIALOG
The Talanoa Dialog is a new mechanism to submit important new sources of independent information to the UNFCCC Negotiators. GCRA’s Tom Goreau, Ray Hayes, and Ernest Williams submitted a GCRA White Paper entitled: We Have Already Exceeded the Upper Temperature Limit for Coral Reef Ecosystems, Which are Dying at Today’s CO2 Levels. Kevin Lister, Sev Clarke, Michael MacCracken, Alan Gadian, Tom Goreau, and Ray Hayes submitted The essential role and form of integrated climate restoration strategy; the setting of targets and timescales; the methodologies and funding options. We can only hope that the world’s governments act immediately to reverse global warming by putting the dangerous excess CO2 back into the soil in time to prevent the extinction of coral reefs, and many other ecosystems. Political irresponsibility, willful ignorance, and greed are causing accelerated global warming and sea level rise, which will result in catastrophic melting of the polar ice caps, eventually causing 50 meters or more of global sea level rise, forcing billions of people from their homes, which will take millions of years for nature to undo. Politicians lying about global climate change to keep a few campaign donors filthy rich from fossil fuels are committing capital crimes against the environment.
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF SCIENTISTS
Tom Goreau spoke at the Boston opening of “Symbiotic Earth”, a film about the late scientific genius Lynn Margulis, about his family’s personal ties to her since the 1940s. Tom Goreau interviewed famous linguistic theorist, social critic, and philosopher Noam Chomsky on the origins of the movement for social responsibility of scientists and engineers, based on the 1969-1970 MIT student strike against weapons research on campus. This was filmed by Werner Grundl and Julie O’Neill of Videosphere, a Cambridge documentary group, and is planned to be part of a documentary and book.