Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
Scientific Advisor, Biorock Indonesia
The late Agung Prana, a leader of Balinese ecotourism, was commemorated by installation of a Biorock reef shaped like the quintessential Balinese mythological figures, Barong and Rangda, at the Pemuteran Sea Festival on December 14, 2018.
Agung Prana pioneered Pemuteran development based on traditional Balinese philosophy of balance and harmony between humans and nature. His goal was to preserve natural beauty for a serene tourism experience, and regenerating coral reefs was part of that vision. Pemuteran’s peace was the opposite of the constant hustle and bustle in densely crowded tourist areas in the south of Bali, where rice fields are paved over with concrete, beaches fouled with plastic, and you can’t hear the waves over the noise.
Thanks to Agung Prana’s support, more than a hundred Biorock reefs were built in front of Taman Sari Resort in Pemuteran, each a different size and shape, the largest concentration of reef restoration projects in the world. Pemuteran changed from one of the poorest villages in Bali to one of the most prosperous, because visitors came from all around the world to swim over beautiful corals and spectacular fishes, right in front of the beach. These projects have received many global awards for ecotourism and environmental leadership, including the United Nations Equator Award for Community Based Development, and the Special UN Development Programme Award for Oceans and Community Development.
Agung Prana was a traditional Balinese leader from the old kingdom of Mengwi, with major responsibilities in maintaining ancient Balinese culture. To honour him, the quintessential Balinese Tale of Barong and Rangda was the obvious choice. Barong, the lion who represents Good, confronts Rangda, who represents Evil, in battle to maintain the balance of the universe. The dramatic Barong dance, accompanied by beautiful Gamelan gong orchestra music, tells the most famous Balinese tale, intimately familiar to all Balinese and the core of presentations of Balinese artistic traditions to visitors.
The Barong and Rangda Biorock sculpture was designed and built by Made Gunaksa at the Biorock Centre.
The installation team was led by Komang Astika of the Biorock Centre, wearing wearing white shirt at centre. Tom Goreau, scientific advisor to Biorock Indonesia, is at his right, Rangda between them wears a flower wreath, with some of the many volunteer divers.
The complete Barong and Rangda Biorock reef structure was borne into the water by a large and enthusiastic team of divers.
It was floated with air barrels and swum to the site.
It was a truly mythological vision underwater.
Corals were attached to the reefs.
The day after installation and the structure being electrified the rust had vanished from the sheet steel on the Barong and Rangda figures the rebar base had begun to turn white with new limestone growth, and new coral growth could be seen where corals had begun to attach themselves to the structure.
The project uses an innovative new power supply designed by Thomas Sarkisian of the Global Coral Reef Alliance. Measurements the next day after installation showed it was delivering as much direct current trickle charge to the structures as the old power supplies, but using only around one third the alternating current from land. Not only will the more efficient power supplies use much less power, they will also require much less maintenance.
Installation of the Agung Prana Memorial Barong and Rangda Biorock Reef was filmed by Take Action Films from Toronto for their forthcoming film on long term change in coral reefs.
The Global Coral Reef Alliance and Biorock Indonesia thanks the family of Agung Prana, the Biorock Centre staff, Taman Sari Resort, the village and people of Pemuteran, and all the many people, far too many to mention in a report this size, who helped as volunteers and sponsors for helping this unique project to happen. We will periodically post photographs and video of the project.
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.
I Gusti Agung Prana, age 70, passed away Friday, July 6th, 2018 at the Wing International Sanglah Hospital Bali, after a long illness of cancer. Mr. Agung Prana, our beloved father was born July 12th, 1948 in Mengwi, Bali. He is survived by his wife, I Gusti Ayu Arini, one daughter, I Gusti Agung Desi Pertiwi, and two sons, I Gusti Bagus Mantra and I Gusti Ngurah Kertiasa.
He was a dedicated man who served his life for Bali Tourism since the late 60s. He has had a chance as Vice President of Bali Tourism Board and Chairman of the Association of Indonesia Travel Agencies (Bali Chapter). His last 3 decades was devoted to sustainable eco-tourism in Pemuteran, North Bali restoring degraded marine ecosystems through biorock reefs method. He was a founder of Karang Lestari Foundation and worked together with the spirit and culture of the local people, changing poor areas into a high visited tourist destination. This brought Pemuteran gained many international and national awards such as Tourism for Tomorrow Awards – Finalist (2018), The Equator Prize of UNDP (2017), Best Sustainable Tourism Development of Indonesia Tourism Ministry (2012), Tri Hita Karana Award (2011), PATA Gold Award (2005), and Best Underwater Ecotourism Project of SKAL International (2002).
On behalf of family members, Mr. Bagus Mantra apologized for all the mistakes of his father. He conveyed that funeral services (Plebon ceremony) will be conducted on Saturday, July 21st, 2018 at the Jero Gede Bakungan, Umabian, Peken Blayu Marga, Tabanan Regency. Friends may call at the funeral home Saturday morning from 7 to 9 a.m. or one hour prior to the services.
A Case Study in Bali Province during the last seven years, a thesis dissertation at Xiamen University, Fujian, China by Sandhi Raditya Bejo Maryoto, Biorock Indonesia Maluku Project Officer, covers the rapid expansion of coral exports for the aquarium trade in Indonesia in general, and Bali in particular.
Indonesia plans to end export of wild corals and switch to 100% export of verifiably cultured corals by 2020. With the banning of coral exports by the Philippines, and most recently by Fiji (BBC Article), Indonesia now has a near-complete monopoly on global aquarium coral exports, so now would be a good time for Indonesia to accelerate the phase-out of wild coral exports.
The world ornamental coral trade continues to grow as the result of increasing demand for aquarium industries. Indonesia as a major exporter has distributed corals worldwide with the USA as the biggest market, followed by 87 other importing countries. Ditjen KSDAE (Directorate General for Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystem) of MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forestry) and P2O-LIPI (Research Center of Oceanography – The Indonesian Science Institution) was mandated as a management and scientific authority, respectively, in this curio trade management in Indonesia which is highly referred to CITES provisions. The trade entangles numbers of fishermen, middlemen, wholesalers, and coral companies in advance of exportation. As reported by CITES, a total of 25,569,984 corals were traded from Indonesia in 1985 until 2014. More than 49% (12,719,104 pieces) of all corals were exported to the USA in the same period. As the trade directed to be more sustainable, cultured corals grew steadily during the last decade. BKSDA Bali (Conservation and Natural Resources Agency of Bali Province) also reported similar results in regional coral exportation from Bali. There were 9,583,821 pieces of ornamental corals, mostly were cultured corals, traded by coral companies based in Bali during 2010 – 2016, with annual growth rate of 19.06%. It constituted almost 60% of total Indonesia exportation and was carried out by 25 coral companies. Existing management measures e.g. quotas, licensing system, and spatial management through no-take zones have been put into effects despite still requires various improvements. More comprehensive studies and scientific data are therefore essential in decision making process to set out adaptive management strategies and thus ensuring sustainable coral trade.
Biorock coral reef restoration in Pemuteran is shown in this paper to have strong support of all sectors of the community because restoration of the economic, environmental, and ecosystem services the reef provides have transformed their way of life from the poorest village in Bali to one of the most prosperous.
Coral reef restoration projects have been conducted worldwide to increase the viability of damaged coral reef ecosystems. Most failed to show significant results. A few have succeeded and gained international recognition for their great benefits to ecosystem services. This study evaluated reef restoration projects in North-west Bali from the perspective of the local community over the past 16 years. As community participation is a critical support system for coral reef restoration projects, the contributing factors which led to high community participation and positive perceptions are examined. Social surveys and statistical analysis were used to understand the correlations between community perception and participation. The findings showed a positive correlation between community perception and participation. The level of community participation also depended on how their work relates to coral reef ecosystems. They supported this project in many ways, from project planning to the religious ceremonies which they believe are fundamental to achieve a successful project. Several Balinese leaders became ‘the bridge’ between global science and local awareness. Without their leadership, this study argues that the project might not have achieved the significant local support that has restored both the environment and the tourism sector in North-West Bali.
Under the waters in Pemuteran, in Bali, this structure might be helping restore a coral reef. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)
As you walk the beach in Pemuteran, a tiny fishing village on the northwest coast of Bali, Indonesia, be careful not to trip on the power cables snaking into the turquoise waves. At the other end of those cables are coral reefs that are thriving with a little help from a low-voltage electrical current.
These electrified reefs grow much faster, backers say. The process, known as Biorock, could help restore these vital ocean habitats at a critical time. Warming waters brought on by climate change threaten many of the world’s coral reefs, and huge swaths have bleached in the wake of the latest El Niño.
Skeptics note that there isn’t much research comparing Biorock to other restoration techniques. They agree, however, that what’s happening with the people of Pemuteran is as important as what’s going on with the coral.
Dynamite and cyanide fishing had devastated the reefs here. Their revival could not have succeeded without a change in attitude and the commitment of the people of Pemuteran to protect them.
A Pemuteran resident assembles one of the Biorock reef restoration structures. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)
Pemuteran is home to the world’s largest Biorock reef restoration project. It began in 2000, after a spike in destructive fishing methods had ravaged the reefs, collapsed fish stocks and ruined the nascent tourism industry. A local scuba shop owner heard about the process and invited the inventors,Tom Goreau and Wolf Hilbertz,to try it out in the bay in front of his place.
Herman was one of the workers who built the first structure. (Like many Indonesians, he goes by just one name.) He was skeptical.
“How (are we) growing the coral ourselves?” he wondered. “What we know is, this belongs to god, or nature. How can we make it?”
A coral reef is actually a collection of tiny individuals called polyps. Each polyp lays down a layer of calcium carbonate beneath itself as it grows and divides, forming the reef’s skeleton. Biorock saves the polyps the trouble. When electrical current runs through steel under seawater, calcium carbonate forms on the surface. (The current is low enough that it won’t hurt the polyps, reef fish or divers.)
Hilbertz, an archihtect, patented the Biorock process in the 1970s as a way to build underwater structures. Coral grows on these structures extremely well. Polyps attached to Biorock take the energy they would have devoted to building calcium carbonate skeletons and apply it toward growing, or warding off diseases.
Hilbertz’s colleague Goreau is a marine scientist, and he put Biorock to work as a coral-restoration tool. The duo says that electrified reefs grow from two to six times faster than untreated reefs, and survive high temperatures and other stresses better.
Herman didn’t believe it would work. But, he says, he was “just a worker. Whatever the boss says, I do.”
So he and some other locals bought some heavy cables and a power supply. They welded some steel rebar into a mesh frame and carried it into the bay. They attached pieces of living coral broken off other reefs. They hooked it all up. And they waited.
Within days, minerals started to coat the metal bars. And the coral they attached to the frame started growing.
“I was surprised,” Herman says. “I said, damn! We did this!”
“We started taking care of it, like a garden,” he adds. “And we started to love it.”
But experts are cautious about Biorock’s potential. “It certainly does appear to work,” says Tom Moore, who leads coral restoration work in the U.S. Caribbean for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
However, he adds, “what we’ve been lacking, and what’s kept the scientific community from embracing it, is independent validation.” He notes that nearly all the studies about Biorock published in the scientific literature are authored by the inventors themselves.
And very little research compares growth rates or long-term fitness of Biorock reefs to those restored by other techniques. Moore’s group has focused on restoring endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. A branch snipped off these types will grow its own branches, which themselves can be snipped and regrown.
He says they considered trying Biorock, but with the exponential expansion they were doing, “We were growing things plenty fast. Growing them a little faster wasn’t going to help us.”
Plus, the need for a constant power supply limits Biorock’s potential, he adds. But climate change is putting coral reefs in such dire straits that Biorock may get a closer look, Moore says.
The two endangered corals his group works on “are not the only two corals in the [Caribbean] system. They’re also not the only two corals listed under the Endangered Species Act. We’ve had the addition of a number of new corals in the last two years.” These slower-growing corals are harder to propagate.
“We’re actively looking for new techniques,” Moore adds. That includes Biorock. “I want to keep a very much open mind.”
But there’s one thing he’s sure about. “Regardless of my skepticism of whether Biorock is any better than any of the other techniques,” he says, “it’s engaging the community in restoration. It’s changing value sets. [That’s] absolutely critical.”
Yayasan Karang Lestari Pemuteran, the local nonprofit that works with the creators of Biorock, also makes environmental education a priority. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)
Pemuteran was one of Bali’s poorest villages. Many depend on the ocean for subsistence. The climate is too dry to grow rice, the national staple. Residents grow corn instead, but “only one time a year because we don’t get enough water,” says Komang Astika, a dive manager at Pemuteran’s Biorock Information Center, whose parents are farmers. “Of course it will not be enough,” he adds.
Chris Brown, a computer engineer, arrived in Pemuteran in 1992 in semi-retirement. He planned to, as he put it, trade in his pinstripe suit for a wetsuit and become a dive instructor.
There wasn’t much in Pemuteran back then. Brown says there were a couple good reefs offshore, “but also a lot of destruction going on, with dynamite fishing and using potassium cyanide to collect aquarium fish.” A splash of the poison will stun fish. But it kills many more, and it does long-lasting damage to the reef habitat.
When he spotted fishermen using dynamite or cyanide, he’d call the police. But that didn’t work too well at first, he says.
“In those days the police would come and hesitantly arrest the people, and the next day they’d be [released] because the local villagers would come and say, ‘that’s my family. You’ve got to release them or we’ll [protest].’”
But Brown spent years getting to know the people of Pemuteran. Over time, he says, they grew to trust him. He remembers a pivotal moment in the mid-1990s. The fisheries were collapsing, but the local fishermen didn’t understand why. Brown was sitting on the beach with some local fishermen, watching some underwater video Brown had just shot.
One scene showed a destroyed reef. It was “just coral rubble and a few tiny fish swimming around.” In the next scene, “there’s some really nice coral reefs and lots of fish. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, they’re going to go out and attack the areas of good coral because there’s good fish there.’”
That’s not what happened.
“One of the older guys actually said, ‘So, if there’s no coral, there’s no fish. If there’s good coral, there’s lots of fish.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘So we’d better protect the good coral because we need more fish.’
“Then I thought, ‘These people aren’t stupid, as many people were saying. They’re just educated differently.’”
Locals formed a coast guard to protect their reefs after they started to understand the connection between healthy reefs and healthy fish. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)
It wasn’t long before the people of Pemuteran would call the police on destructive fishermen.
But sometimes, Brown still took the heat.
Once, when locals called the police on cyanide fishers from a neighboring village, Brown says, people from that village “came back later with a big boat full of people from the other village wielding knives and everything and yelling, ‘Bakar, bakar!’ which means ‘burn, burn.’ They wanted to burn down my dive shop.”
But the locals defended Brown. “They confronted these other [fishermen] and said, ‘It wasn’t the foreigner who called the police. It was us, the fishermen from this village. We’re sick and tired of you guys coming in and destroying [the reefs].’”
That’s when local dive shop owner Yos Amerta started working with Biorock’s inventors. The turnaround was fast, dramatic and effective. As the coral grew, fish populations rebounded. And the electrified reefs drew curious tourists from around the world.
One survey found that “forty percent of tourists visiting Pemuteran were not only aware of village coral restoration efforts, but came to the area specifically to see the rejuvenated reefs,” according to the United Nations Development Program. The restoration work won UNDP’s Equator Prize in 2012, among other accolades.
Locals are working as dive leaders and boat drivers, and the new hotels and restaurants offer another market for the locals’ catch.
“Little by little, the economy is rising,” says the Biorock Center’s Astika. “[People] can buy a motorbike, [children] can go to school. Now, some local people already have hotels.”
Herman, who helped build the first Biorock structure, now is one of those local hotel owners. He says the growing tourism industry has helped drive a change in attitudes among the people in Pemuteran.
“Because they earn money from the environment, they will love it,” he says.