Recharging Indonesian marine biodiversity

Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
Scientific Advisor, Biorock Indonesia

Indonesia has the largest and most biodiverse coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses of any country in the world. Sadly, all are under severe pressure. Around 95% of the coral reefs have been badly damaged or degraded from bombing, poisons, soil runoff, sewage and chemical pollution, new diseases, and bleaching caused by global warming. More than half the mangroves have been cut and dredged out for shrimp ponds, around half of which have been abandoned due to shrimp diseases. Their loss is causing severe coastal flooding in adjacent, now unprotected, land, such as Jakarta, North Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and across South East Asia. Seagrass beds are dying as they are buried in mud from eroded soils washed away from jungles that are being deforested, logged, and converted to oil palm plantations, and as increased sewage and agricultural fertilizers from land trigger harmful algae blooms that smother seagrass and coral reefs. As Indonesia’s priceless coastal ecosystems vanish, fisheries are collapsing, beaches washing away, and rare endemic species may be lost forever.

Sulawesi lies in the central core area of the highest biodiversity in Indonesia, the “heart of the heart” of global marine species diversity. Those reefs that have not been bombed, poisoned, or bleached have the highest coral cover, biodiversity, and growth in the world. The incredible diversity of this area is due to many unique environmental and historical factors, too many to cover briefly here, but which will be covered in a future book on coral reefs. Since GCRA spends almost all our time regenerating the most damaged reefs where only a last few dying corals survive under severe stress, we fully appreciate the need to save the last and finest coral reefs remaining before they too vanish from global warming and pollution.

There is an urgent need for new methods to regenerate damaged coastal ecosystems to maintain the shore protection, fisheries, tourism, and biodiversity services they provide. In the face of accelerating global warming, global sea level rise, and pollution the old ways of restoring these ecosystems have proven to be expensive failures, when conventional coral fragment farms are catastrophically wiped out by bleaching, diseases, and hurricanes, and mangroves and seagrasses laboriously transplanted are washed away by increasingly strong storm waves before their roots can grow. As these stresses increase, future long term success in regenerating these crucial ecosystems can only come with regenerative methods that greatly increase the settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to extreme environmental stresses from high temperature, mud, pollution, and waves. Biorock is the only method that does all these, not just for corals but for all marine animals and plants. Biorock reefs keep entire ecosystems alive during extreme stresses that would kill them, and regenerate entire ecosystems even in severely polluted areas where there has been no natural recovery. Around 500 Biorock Coral Arks built by Biorock Indonesia teams in Bali, Lombok, Flores, Sulawesi, Java, Sumbawa, and Ambon are growing about half of all the coral species in the world, and dramatically increasing the marine biodiversity around them.

GCRA recently filmed prime coral reefs in North Sulawesi with Take Action Films, who are preparing a documentary on long term change in coral reefs. At many of these magnificent sites the shallow reefs are still completely covered with huge table corals, up to 4 to 5 meters across. Deeper waters are dominated by soft corals and sponges. But despite their magnificence, these reefs are not invulnerable to global warming, new coral diseases, and land-based pollution.

Shallow reefs are dominated by table corals, this site is a relatively “poor” reef, it has some of the lowest coral cover, coral size, and diversity seen in these dives
Drop off walls like this are completely covered in bright soft corals and tunicates
This wall site is dominated by trees of the spectacular green-black coral Tubastrea micrantha, and sponges
Large gorgonians are common

But all is not perfect in this underwater Paradise. In 2016 and 1998 high temperature bleaching events killed more than 95% of the corals in reefs across southern Indonesia, and such events are getting more frequent and more severe because of global warming. The hardiest coral species of all, and the last to die from severe bleaching stress and pollution, were found in 2018 to be dying from new disease outbreaks in areas down-current from large shrimp and fish farms. The work of GCRA’s James Cervino and colleagues strongly suggests that these poorly studied diseases are caused by shellfish pathogenic bacteria and viruses spreading from shrimp and fish farms. Working in research partnership with Institut Pertanian Bogor, Indonesia’s top agricultural and fisheries research university, Biorock Indonesia and the Global Coral Reef Alliance hope to identify the pathogens causing the new coral disease outbreaks and determine how they are linked to commercial mariculture.

In November 2018 Biorock Indonesia trained local teams in Ambon, to save the last corals left in badly polluted Ambon Bay:

Ambon Bay is a model for restoring damaged reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses in severely polluted areas like Jakarta Bay, Surabaya, Makassar, Balikpapan, and all the other coastal cities imperiled by sea level rise all along the shores of South East Asia.

Outbreaks of coral eating snails and starfish are also making severe inroads on prime reefs.

This large soft coral has been eaten in patches by two large cowrie snails with black tissue covering their white shells, above the finger, which points to a mass of brown eggs laid on the soft coral tissue. Another mass of white eggs of a different species were seen nearby on the same coral. Although the snail eats the soft coral, it does not kill it, and previously damaged, now recovering, portions are seen. The damage done by Drupella snails to hard corals is vastly more severe, and is be worse than Crown of Thorns damage in many places

In the Red Sea islands off the coast of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the early 1960s the late Professor Tom Goreau first discovered how Acanthaster starfish eat corals by extruding their stomach out through their mouth, covering and digesting coral tissue, and then pulling their stomach back inside their mouth. He had first collected live specimens of Acanthaster starfish at Bikini Atoll in 1947, when they lived in deep caves and only came out at night. It is not known what predator they were hiding from that controlled their populations at that time. In the late 1960s, when huge swarms were first documented in the Western Pacific, he led studies of major outbreaks in Saipan, Guam, and Palau. Swarms of half a million or more starfish migrated around entire islands eating all the corals, until they starved to death because there were no more corals left to eat. The reefs then recovered over a decade or so, but only if they were in prime quality water free from global warming, pollution, disease, and other human impacts, until a new swarm of starfish grows and eats them. Recovery was rapid in the old days, a decade or so, but now recovery is exceptionally rare because of accelerating human-caused environmental deterioration.

In the finest reef seen, with spectacular coral cover and diversity, we found and removed a small herd of coral eating crown of thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci
Removing the starfish has to be done very carefully because they are covered with toxic spines. In this case the only tools we had were a small bag and a pointer stick
This coral, broken and flipped over by a storm or by anchor damage, is being turned back over to its right side

Also in 2018 an earthquake in Lombok did damage to many Biorock projects in the Gili Islands, mostly to the power supplies destroyed in fallen buildings. The Gili Eco Trust, our local partner, has been busy repairing the damage.

Despite all these threats, Indonesia still has the world’s largest and most diverse coral reefs, mangroves, and sea grasses, but in the future they will be even more threatened than before when global warming, global sea level rise, and pollution, and human pressures get worse.

Biorock Indonesia, GCRA’s partner, is doing its best to train local groups to set up community-managed Biorock Coral Arks across Indonesia to regenerate entire ecosystems. The Global Coral Reef Alliance’s Thomas Sarkisian recently tested new, much more efficient power systems, needing much less maintenance in Bali, and Biorock Indonesia hopes to upgrade the performance of projects across the archipelago as soon as funds can be raised. At the same time Biorock Indonesia & GCRA are working to develop and expand sustainable community-based mariculture technologies for corals, fishes, lobsters, oysters, giant clams, sea grass, mangroves, and many other species. We thank Take Action film for their support in getting to these sites.

Biorock Technology: A Novel Tool for Large-Scale Whole-Ecosystem Sustainable Mariculture using Direct Biophysical Stimulation of Marine Organism’s Biochemical Energy Metabolism

2018 International Summit on Fisheries & Aquaculture

Biorock Technology: A Novel Tool for Large-Scale Whole-Ecosystem Sustainable Mariculture using Direct Biophysical Stimulation of Marine Organism’s Biochemical Energy Metabolism

Biorock mariculture technology is a novel application of marine electrolysis, which grows solid limestone reefs of any size or shape in seawater, that get stronger with age and are self-repairing. Biorock reefs can be designed to provide habitat specific to needs of hard and soft corals, sponges, seagrass, fishes, lobsters, oysters, giant clams, sea cucumbers, mussels, and other marine organisms of economic value, or grow back severly eroded beaches at record rates. Biorock reefs, and surronding areas, have greatly increased settlement, growth rate, survival, and resistance to severe environmental stress from high temperatures, sedimentation, and pollution for all marine organisms observed. This allows marine ecosystems to survive otherwise lethal conditions and be regenerated at record rates even in places with no natural recovery. These remarkable findings seem to result from weak electrical fields poising the membrane voltage gradients all forms of life use to generate biochemical energy (ATP and NADP), causing enhanced growth of all species. Biorock technology provides a new paradigm for whole-ecosystem sustainable mariculture that generates its own food supplies, the antithesis of conventional mono-species mariculture dependent on external food inputs, whose wastes cause eutrophication that kills off surrounding subsistence fisheries. Potential applications include fish, crustacean, and bivalve mariculture, algae mariculture, pharmaceutical producing species, and floating reefs for pelagic fishes. The power requirements are small and can be provided by solar, wind, ocean current, and wave energy. The techniques are ideally suited for community—managed mariculture, if investment funding were available to subsistence fishing communities.


Thomas J.F Goreau was educated in Jamaican schools and hold degrees  from MIT, Caltech, and Harvard. President and founder of The Global Coral Reef Alliance, he has dived on coral reefs across the Caribbean, Pacific, Indian Ocean, and SouthEast Asia for more than 60 years. He has published more than 150 papers and written and edited books on scientific photography, marine ecosystem restoration, and soil fertility restoration. He is co-inventor of the HotSpot method for predicting coral bleaching from satellite data and of the Biorock method for regenerating marine ecoystems and eroding coastlines.

Government of Philippines to shut down Boracay, the country’s top tourist attraction, due to pollution

GCRA assessed coral health, algae, and water quality all around Boracay in 1997 and 2007, and made recommendations on tertiary sewage treatment to recycle waste nutrients on land and keep them off the reef. The first report was banned by the Minister of Tourism, and both were ignored.

Read GCRA 2007 paper Boracay Environmental Restoration, Water Quality, and Sustainable Energy: Current Situation and Future Prospects

Read GCRA 1997 paper  Water Quality and Coral Reef Health In Boracay, El Nido, Isla Verde, and Balicasag, Philippines


Watch BBC News Video – Boracay: Paradise islanders fear tourist shutdown


Article published on April 5th 2018 in the BBC News site
Original article @

Philippines to temporarily close popular tourist island Boracay

5 April 2018

Boracay is popular with foreign and local tourists

The Philippine island of Boracay will be closed to tourists for six months following concerns of damage to its once pristine shores.

A spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte said the closure would begin on 26 April.

Earlier this year Mr Duterte said Boracay was turning into a “cesspool” and threatened to shut it down.

The island, known for its white-sand beaches, attracted nearly 2 million visitors last year.

The decision has prompted concern for the thousands of people employed in Boracay’s busy tourist trade.

The island is home to around 500 tourism-related businesses, which drew in annual revenue of $1.07bn (£760m) last year. The government said affected companies will receive financial aid.

It’s not clear how the shutdown will be implemented, though the department of trade and industry had earlier proposed closing the island down in phases, saying a total shutdown would be detrimental to businesses and livelihoods.

Damage fears

The move follows growing concern over the island’s environmental health.

Officials had warned businesses had been releasing wastewater into the surrounding waters.

In February, Mr Duterte condemned the island’s hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses, accusing them of dumping sewage directly into the sea.

A mountain of trash sits on a hillside on Boracay

“I will charge you for serious neglect of duty [for] making Boracay a fishpond or a sewer pool,” Mr Duterte said at the time.

“Either [you] clean it up or I will close it permanently. There will be a time that no more foreigners will go there.”


Panama Canal Port Dredging That Damages Coral Reefs Stopped By Legal Action

The lawsuit by Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) against dredging that would damage coral reefs in front of the Panama Canal (based on GCRA reef surveys with the Galeta Marine Laboratory) was admitted by Panamanian Courts on 8 January 2018. This means that the construction works in the port must be suspended while the Court provides a final merits decision. Because we filed an amparo de garantías action, we argued infringement of the constitutional rights to a healthy environment, sustainable development and health. Because of these arguments, once this type of lawsuit is admitted it immediately suspends the legal effects of the resolution that approved the project’s EIA until a final decision is made by the Supreme Court.

Please read more on the news that was published on January 29 in Panama’s leading newspaper, La Prensa: 

NYCDEP about to destroy historic 10 year NYSDEC salt marsh, oyster, and mussel restoration at McNeil Park, College Point, Queens

March 31 2017,
To: NYS DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos State Senator Tony Avella

New York City Department of Environmental Protection is racing ahead with irresponsible plans to destroy the most successful oyster, mussel, and salt marsh restoration project ever done in New York City, or anywhere else.

These projects, approved by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, have for 10 years pioneered new methods for restoring these valuable ecosystems, providing habitat for birds, fish, and shellfish, protecting shores from erosion, and improving coastal water quality, which could save the City billions of dollars in adapting to and mitigating global warming and global sea level rise (please see current photos attached).

The MacNeil Park projects have shown for the first time how to restore vibrant marine ecosystems to barren shores where everything had died from toxic waste dumping at the site for more than 50 years. They not only restored life to a wasteland, but showed for the first time how to grow these organisms under extreme stress conditions that they normally could not survive. Our team is now expanding the project to fill in all the gaps.

10 years of work will be destroyed if DEP puts the storm drain where they intend. This will not only flush water shown by chemical analysis to have illegally high concentrations of toxic lead, copper, zinc, hydrocarbons, and untreated sewage, but the water flow will wash away the beach sediment and cause severe local coastal erosion at a site that is a designated public recreational area and entry way for kayaks.

Using the Biorock restoration method, we had 100% survival of oysters during the winter when 93% of control oysters died. The few surviving control oysters stopped growing in winter, and their shells were chalky, crumbly, and dissolving due to cold acidic water, but Biorock oysters grew all winter, and their shells were bright and shiny with no dissolution.

The Biorock restoration method has grown salt marsh lower in the intertidal zone than salt marsh grass can tolerate, it grows taller, faster, greener, and spreads faster than controls, grows back in larger spreading patches after every winter when controls die, and has prolific root growth and mussel populations which bind sediment and prevent erosion by waves.

The mussel growth has been so extraordinary that in a few years we have raised the height of the beach where we are growing them by up to a foot, much faster than the rate of global sea level rise, about an eighth of an inch a year. Therefore, we are able to grow beaches upwards at places where they are now washing away from erosion.

Oysters have spontaneously settled near our projects, but not away from them, showing that oyster settlement is increased by the Biorock process. These oysters have shown exceptionally high growth and survival.

These incredible results show for the first time that it is possible to extend salt marshes seaward to protect coasts from erosion. All salt marshes in the US are rapidly eroding and collapsing into the sea due to global sea level rise and increased storm wave strength caused by global warming. Jamaica Bay is the worst example of this. The methods pioneered at the McNeil Park project could save Jamaica Bay salt marshes, and help protect Kennedy Airport from flooding by the sea and storm surges (remember Sandy!).

This destruction of a historic restoration project is entirely un-necessary! There is an existing storm drain at the site that runs out past the project to the low tide mark, built long ago to prevent contaminated water washing directly onto the beach. But instead of using it or upgrading it, DEP plans to dump polluted water directly at the shoreline high tide mark, and flush away 10 years of extraordinarily successful work with polluted water!

The bulldozers are right at the edge of the project, ready to move into action unless DEC can get them to responsibly act to save New York City’s precious green shorelines! We urgently appeal for your help to save the projects that will make New York the leader in natural shore protection.

Sincerely yours,
Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance

Follow up to September 14th 2016 letter:
Please Stop College Point storm drain killing world’s most important salt marsh and oyster restoration projects

McNeil Park is an important recreational area in Queens, that is now a pioneering environmental restoration and public education site. All photos were taken on March 29 and March 30 2017
Wildlife is now returning to a devastated area because of the restoration projects. These Green Shoreline ecosystems provide the best and cheapest protection of the coast against erosion and storm surges
The proposed discharge point for water polluted with unacceptable levels of lead, zinc, copper, and hydrocarbons, will also dump untreated sewage at the shore line onto the beach during storm events. right onto the public kayak entry area.
DEP has dumped pipes to flush contaminated water onto the beach right next to the restoration project signs (left), even though DEC has apparently not approved the drain project. So DEP cannot be unaware of the restoration projects!
This rock near the projects has about a dozen oysters growing on it, as well as many barnacles
This rock near the project has had around 20 oysters settle, grow, and survive on it. Such density of oysters is not found away from the projects
Mussel populations have dramatically expanded in recent years in the project area, and now cover the bottom in many places. They rapidly filter the water and clean it.
We are growing salt marsh lower in the water than it can normally grow, and the dense roots hold back the beach sediment and prevent it being washed away during storm waves. New leaves are now starting to spring up, and in a month there will be bright green salt marsh grass all over the area, unless it is killed by polluted storm runoff
The dense mussel and salt marsh growth has raised the height of the bottom by up to a foot in a few years
The salt marsh and mussels we have restored have raised the beach level by holding sand in place. Where they don’t grow, the sand and mud are washing away. Our goal is to fill the gaps and cover the entire area with growing habitat and fill in the spaces in between the clumps we have grown. The storm drain will flush polluted water right on top of the project, kill them, and wash away the sand. Eventually the sea wall will collapse because of erosion. Green shores are the cheapest and best protection
An old storm drain runs all the way from the shore right at the site of the new DEP storm drain. The new drain should do the same
The old drain goes all the way out into deep water past the low tide mark in order to avoid polluting the shore. Incredibly, DEP does not plan to do the same with the new drain, so they will destroy the habitat!

The EmeralPlanet broadcast: “Coral Reefs, The Oceans, and Climate Change”

Our outstanding guests concerning the importance of global coral reefs and oceans are:Segment ‘1’: Marcelian A. Cravat, Director/Producer, Angel Azul Documentary Film, (By Skype)*;

Segment ‘2’: Dr. Thomas J. Goreau, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance and President, Biorock International (By Skype and Telephone)*;

Segment ‘3’:  Marcelian A. Cravat, Director/Producer, Angel Azul Documentary Film (By Skype) and Dr. Thomas J. Goreau, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance and President, Biorock International (By Telephone)*;

Segment ‘4’:  Henri Georges Polgar, Executive Director, PanAmerican – PanAfrican Association (In-Studio) and *(In-Studio Skype/Telephone Back-Up) for Segments ‘1’, ‘2’; and ‘3’.

Angel Azul marks the environmental documentary debut of filmmaker Marcelina (Marcy) A. Cravat who explores the creation of hauntingly beautiful human like sculptures that eventually find their place on the Caribbean Sea floor. The artist is British born Jason deCaires Taylor who bonded with the sea as a boy living abroad in exotic places where coral reefs were his playground. Ocean discovery became his passion and from that grew a deep connection that would define his work as an adult.