10 years ago on Gaia Discovery – Thomas Goreau on Coral Restoration with Biorock

As published in Gaia Discovery on August 8, 2008

by Mallika Naguran

He is a pained man on a mission. Dr Thomas J Goreau is sickened with seeing widespread and massive destruction of coral reefs that were once resplendent underwater rainforests, a joy to fishes and fishermen alike.

And he has no choice but to act as the value of reefs is immeasurable. “Coral reefs provide most of the marine biodiversity, fisheries, shore protection, and tourism for over 100 countries. All of this depends on having healthy corals. No other organism can do this,” says Tom.

The President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA) is charged up to reverse the situation with a bit of help from technology. “To restore reefs we must eliminate the stresses that damage corals and use new methods to grow them faster and more resistant to stress,” he says.  

Technology to Help Grow Corals

Tom has an illustrious career. He was previously Senior Scientific Affairs Officer at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology for Development, in charge of global climate change and biodiversity issues, and has published around 200 papers in areas such as coral reef ecology, changes in global ocean circulation, tropical deforestation and reforestation and mathematical modeling of climate records.

Tom developed the method to predict the location, timing, and severity of coral bleaching from satellite data with Ray Hayes. In 1990 Tom formed GCRA, a non-profit organization for coral reef protection and sustainable management, with a network of volunteer scientists, divers, environmentalists and organizations.

Corals grow 3 to 5 times faster with Biorock.

Using technology as a means, essentially Biorock that was invented by the late Wolf Hilbertz, they address the needs of coral reef restoration, marine diseases and issues caused by global climate change, environmental stress and pollution.

The method allows reefs to survive and recover from damage caused by excessive nutrients, climate change, and physical destruction. To build a Biorock reef, a low voltage electrical current is passed through a conductive frame that’s anchored to the seabed. Power can be sourced from chargers, windmills, solar panels or tidal current generators.

The electrolytic reaction causes mineral crystals such as calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide found in seawater to grow on the structure. Within days, a whitish hue that is made up of precipitated minerals coat the structure’s surface – a sign that the wired frame is ready for action.

Divers then begin transplanting coral fragments from other reefs and attach them to the frame. The coral pieces begin to bond to the accreted mineral substrate immediately and start to grow at a rate up to five times faster than usual. Soon the frame with dotted corals becomes a habitat for a reef ecosystem, attracting colonizing marine life such as fish, crabs, clams, octopus, lobster, and sea urchins.

“In the Maldives during the 1998 warming, fewer than 5% of the natural reef corals survived. But on our GCRA reefs, 80% of corals not only survived, they flourished,” says Tom.  Corals from these reefs are now recolonizing the surrounding natural habitats, I am told. GCRA reefs are growing vibrantly in Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Panama, and Mexico.

Growing Up Among Corals

Tom, growing up in Jamaica was swimming as soon as he could walk. “I have dived longer and in more reefs around the world than any coral scientist,” says Tom, previously Senior Scientific Affairs Officer at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology for Development.

What Tom did to pass time as a boy.

What Tom did to pass time as a boy.

Tom could very well have coral DNA in his cell structure as his father Thomas F Goreau was the first diving marine scientist, researching on coral ecology in 1948. Grandpa Fritz Goreau was notable too for pioneering underwater photography using self-made underwater cameras and breathing dive apparatus. They took the first high quality photographs of coral reef organisms in the Central Pacific, Bahamas, and the Great Barrier Reef among other locations.

“When I was young we would travel around Jamaica where my father would show his underwater photographs to fishermen and tell them why the reefs were disappearing and in danger.  So it is just something I grew up doing and had the fortune of learning from the person who knew the most about coral reefs,” says Tom.

“I continue only because no one else has this background, experience and knowledge, and somebody has to maintain it,” he adds, in spite of losing parts of his hand to a barracuda attack in 2004, which has since been reconstructed.

“There is almost no place that my grandfather, father, or I knew in the past that is not heartbreakingly damaged, many so badly ruined that there is just no trace at all left of the reefs, not even rubble. Most of those who live in those areas now don’t even realize what they have lost,” he frowns.

Seeing is Believing

In spite of evidence that coral reefs are thriving thanks to Biorock where they were once bleached, dead or crushed, the path chosen to save coastal reefs using this proven technology is full of rocks. 

“As a career choice, it has been suicidal to be in a field where there is no funding – it is impossible to survive. I often wish I had not been obliged by circumstance to have to do this and could have had a job that I would be actually paid for.” Among the difficulties he encounters, Tom speaks about the lack of faith.

A new reef is born where once barren.

“No one believes what we do is possible until they see it themselves. Growing bright coral reefs swarming with fish in a few years in places that were barren deserts is something everybody thinks can’t be done, but has been done in nearly 30 countries with only small donations, mostly from local people who remember how their reef used to be and realize they must grow more corals now,” he explains.

Describing local funding as “a drop in the bucket”, he urges the immediate resources from other sources. “Until governments, big international funding agencies, the private sector, and big international conservation groups realize that if we don’t have policies and funding to restore what we have lost, it will very soon be too late.”

Photos by Tom Goreau and Club Aqua, Bali.

Tom, who is also the Coordinator of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development Partnership in New Technologies for Small Island Developing States, can be contacted at goreau@bestweb.net.

Visit his website at http://www.globalcoral.org


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:

http://www.globalcoral.org/biorock-brings-corals-back-in-ambon/

http://www.globalcoral.org/updates-on-biorock-ambon-project/

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.

Coral Bleaching: Global Warming versus Ocean Acidification

 
T. J. F. Goreau & S. Muka, Letters, American Scientist, 2019, 107:4
 
 
 
Transcript: 

 

To the Editors:

Sam Muka’s article “Trashing the Tanks” propagates the most perniciously widespread and hard-to-eradicate falsehood about corals: that bleaching and mortality are due to acidification rather than a high temperature. Every article about ocean acidification shows photos of corals that were bleached by an excessively high temperature, despite the fact that acidification does not cause bleaching at all!

Most of the corals in the world have now already died from heat shock caused by excessively high temperatures resulting from global warming, as Ray Hayes, Peter Glynn, Ernest Williams, and I predicted would happen almost 30 years ago after the planet suddenly passed the high-temperature tipping point for global-scale mass coral bleaching in the 1980s. Acidification only dissolves skeletons of corals long
after they have died from heat shock.

Reducing carbon dioxide (C02) in time to prevent global warming— caused extinction of coral reef ecosystems automatically prevents later damage from acidification, but controlling C02 in time to prevent acidification guarantees that global warming will kill them by heat stroke. Focusing C02-control efforts to prevent ocean acidification instead of global warming is a scientifically irresponsible and politically dangerous red herring.

Thomas J. F. Goreau
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
Cambridge, MA

Dr. Muka responds:

Thank you for the clarification. You are correct that coral bleaching is caused by the evacuation or death of photosynthetic organisms from coral structures. If those photosynthetic organisms don’t return, the polyps die and all that is left is a “bleached” shell. Ocean acidification does not cause bleaching, but instead causes the dissolution of the calcium structure that makes up the coral. Ocean acidification occurs in warming seas, but it is not the primary killer of corals, nor will it ever be. The ocean would already have to be too warm for the survival of coral polyps before it was acidic enough to result in direct coral death.

However, I’m unsure that the differentiation affects the way the public understands their role in climate change, broadly speaking. The steps that aquarium visitors would be told to take (contact representatives, reduce fossil fuel use, lower their carbon footprint) are the same because, hopefully, anything they are taught to do would decrease warming and, by default, acidification.

Happy Winter Solstice! 2018 GCRA activities report

Featured

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

BARONG & RANGDA, Biorock sculpture of the quintessential Balinese myth of the struggle between good and evil, installed December 14 2018 in honor of late Balinese ecotourism pioneer Agung Prana.

INDONESIA

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

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.

Bali

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.

Kalimantan (Borneo)

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.

Ambon

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.

Java

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.

Lombok

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.

 

MEXICO

 

Cozumel

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.
 

Costa Maya

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.

Sonora

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.

 

PANAMA

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.

 

MAUI

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.

 

NETHERLANDS

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”.

 

JAMAICA

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.

 

SAMOA

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.

 

AUSTRALIA

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.

 

CANADA

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.

Ninety years of change on the Great Barrier Reef

By Tom Goreau
 
Ninety years ago the Cambridge University Great Barrier Reef Expedition at Low Isle laid the foundations of modern coral research. 
 
The Global Coral Reef Alliance team has just spent the week with a Canadian documentary film crew filming the Low Isle reefs to document the changes since 1928.
 
The 1928-1929 expedition did pioneering work on the physiology of corals, on water quality, and many other subjects, covered in a voluminous series of scientific reports.
 
The Expedition found that corals bleached if their temperature was raised about one degree C, and died if it was raised about 2 degrees C. These limits that have not changes in nearly a century. They also discovered mass coral spawning, and found that corals would avidly eat small zooplankton animals, but would not eat microscopic plants, or phytoplankton.  These fundamental findings were only “discovered” by Australian coral scientists generations later.
 
They had no underwater diving gear or underwater photographic equipment, so their photos were of exposed coral reefs at low tide, corals collected from tide pools, and water samples. At one point they borrowed pearl diver’s helmets and pumps, and dived to see the reef, limited to the length of the hose, but unfortunately they had no underwater cameras to record the reef below the water surface.
 

Sir Maurice Yonge, leader of the Cambridge University Great Barrier Reef Expedition with his wife Mattie, the expedition doctor, on Low Isle in 1928.

The first underwater photography of the Great Barrier Reef was not done until 1950, by my grandfather Fritz Goreau (who used the professional name Goro), the inventor of macro and close up photography, and many other methods of scientific visualization to reveal what previously could not be seen or imaged. He photographed reefs underwater along the length of the GBR, all the way to Mer (Murray Island) in the extreme north end of the GBR near New Guinea (which Yonge had identified as the best reefs in the GBR), and  he photographed along the entire GBR from the air.
 

Fritz Goreau (left) at Low Isle in 1950

 
After my father, Tom Goreau, pioneered diving marine science in the 1940s, first explored the ecological zonation of coral reefs, and did pioneering work on the anatomy, ecology, physiology, and biochemistry of corals, Sir Maurice adopted our family as his scientific successors. My father, my mother, Dr. Nora Goreau, the first Panamanian and Central American marine scientist, and I worked with Maurice researching coral physiology, giant clams, and Fungiacava, most unusual clams we discovered in the Red Sea that are invisible because they bore inside of coral skeletons and feed directly out of the coral’s stomach. After the 1928 Great Barrier Reef Expedition, Maurice became the world’s top authority on the mollusks (clams, snails, and their relatives), and published classic books on the ecology of marine life around Britain. He told me in his old age that he had never expected to work on coral reefs again, but working with my father rejuvenated him and gave him a new lease of life. 

 

Sir Maurice Yonge as I knew him.

In 1967 Maurice and my father went back to the GBR, where they were the first to study coral communities adapted to very muddy habitats. Maurice was shocked to see the changes at Low Isle since 1929. The shallow reef, which had been completely covered with magnificent hard corals, was now dominated by soft corals. The sugar industry had moved into the lowland areas of Queensland, using Pacific Islanders, mostly from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, for labor. Whole villages and islands were emptied of their people at gun point, forced onto ships, and used as slaves in Australia, although described by the euphemism “blackbirding”. Many died, and few returned home. As a result of the near total deforestation of Queensland lowlands, coastal waters turned muddy brown from eroded soils. After the Second World War the sugar plantations, whose yields had declined severely from erosion of soil and nutrients, began to apply chemical fertilizers on a large scale, most of which washed down rivers into the sea, triggering harmful algae blooms that overgrew and killed almost all the nearshore coral reefs. This process is called eutrophication.
 
In the early 1990s Peter Bell, a chemical engineer at the University of Queensland, discovered the quantitative nutrient limits that separate healthy coral reefs from dead algae-overgrown eutrophic reefs. He re-established the Low Isle Research Laboratory to repeat the 1920s Cambridge University team measurements. Low Isle reefs that had been completely covered with hard corals now had only around one tenth that amount. He and his colleague Ibrahim Elmetri found that phytoplankton (microscopic algae), had increased four or five times, explaining why the blue waters had turned green, and why phytoplankton-eating soft corals now dominated over hard corals. They found that the phosphate content of the waters (derived from land-based runoff) had risen, explaining why algae, which had barely been noted in the 1920s, now dominates the shallow reef flat.
 
Instead of encouraging this important work on the causes of the declining health of the GBR, his funding was cut, his lab was closed, and the authorities spent millions of dollars dumping agricultural fertilizer on reefs to “prove” that they had no effect on corals! When they “discovered that fertilizers were not a problem”, they didn’t say that the reef they chose was already eutrophic and covered with algae! Denying the causes of coral decline from nutrients, crown of thorns, diseases, and bleaching caused by global warming has been a systematic pattern. The Australian authorities have long boasted of being perfect environmental managers, so admitting that most of the corals had died under their “management” was something they concealed and denied, paying scientists for hire (“biostitutes”) to say that everything was fine, and if there was any damage it was just a natural cycle that would go away all by itself because their perfect management had made the reefs “resilient” so they would bounce back by themselves.
 
Peter Bell accompanied the Global Coral Reef Alliance team to Low Isle this year. He was shocked to see how much algae had spread over the dead shallow reef at Low Isle. The corals had been badly affected by bleaching caused by global warming in recent years, another cause of reef mortality that the authorities denied until almost all the corals were dead and they could no longer hide the obvious catastrophe:
 
Our filming showed a dramatic decline in corals compared to the old photos. In the best areas of Low Isle reefs we still found huge ancient corals, some of the largest I have ever seen. However there were no large Acroporas, the coral family that used to be overwhelmingly dominant, and which were the fastest growing and most important for fish habitat and shore protection. The Acroporas we saw were small, most had settled after the last bleaching event. Although there were some very large corals, their species diversity was low. Almost all large corals consisted of Porites lutea heads, branching Porites cylindrica, Goniopora, Oxypora, and Heliopora, all corals that are more resistant to high temperature and pollution than Acropora. These are basically the last survivors. The water is now rapidly warming, and if this continues another bleaching event could kill many of them in the coming weeks and months. 
 
We also looked at coastal fringing reefs, which used to line the entire coast except for river mouths. Brandon Walker and Bennett Walker, of the local Kuku Yulanji Aboriginal community, took us out on areas that had been huge green seagrass beds full of turtles and dugong, behind reefs which they remembered covered with live corals, full of barramundi, blue starfish, and sea urchins. All have vanished under slimy mud washed down the rivers from the sugar cane fields inland. We filmed local organic farmer Andre Leu, who has improved his farm soil so that it no longer erodes and washes precious topsoil and nutrients into the sea. He has increased the organic matter in his soil six times through composting, without adding chemical fertilizers, so his soil is much more fertile, and holds much more water. In contrast to his farm, where heavy rain soaks into the ground, the rain on the sugar fields runs right off the hard compacted soils and does not infiltrate into the ground, shortening the growing season while killing the reefs with mud and fertilizer nutrients. If all the farmers used his methods, dumping of mud and nutrients onto the reef could stop. Moreover he is absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, while his neighbors are releasing it! If all farmers used progressive carbon farming, we could end global warming and reduce CO2 to safe, pre-industrial levels.
 
The Global Coral Reef Alliance plans to scan the historic photographs from the Yonge and Goreau coral reef photograph collections from 1928, 1950, 1967, and 1998 (when I lived on Low Isle and filmed the reefs on all sides) to compare them to the 2018 footage. These have never seen before in Australia,and  will be posted on the web and used for historic documentation and public education. GCRA will work with courageous truth-telling scientists like Peter Bell and Ibrahim Elmetri, the Low Isle Preservation Society, Great Barrier Reef Legacy, a local coral reef documentation and preservation organization founded by John Rumney, who has dived on the reef since 1974 and seen most of it die, with the Mayor of Port Douglas, the local environmental management organizations, and the Traditional Owners of this coast, the Kuku Yulanji Aboriginal community to: 
1) make the historic photographs available in Australia for public education on the long term changes to the reefs
2) re-estabish the Low Isles Research Laboratory for cutting edge environmental monitoring and research on coral reef sustainability
3) restore the damaged coral reefs, both offshore and inshore, using modern Biorock electric reef technology, which the Australian authorities have never allowed.

The warning was issued 20 years ago on the once Great Barrier Reef

The warning was issued 20 years ago, when the Townsville Bulletin published this article about how coral bleaching was affecting the Great Barrier Reef and how global warming would kill the corals. 
 
 

 

Transcript: 

Coral bleaching killing our reefs

By DEBBIE XINOS

CORAL bleaching is killing the world’s coral reef systems.

But according to experts, the Great Barrier Reef has escaped serious damage — for now.

Unless stringent management practices were adopted worldwide the future for even the Great Barrier Reef was bleak, they said.

The warning was issued yesterday at the International Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management Symposium conference in Townsville.

Marine Ecologist Terry Done said this year’s warm weather had caused coral bleaching on a record number of reefs.
He said while this could be attributed to unprecedented climatic changes, it was too early to lay blame on the effects of global warming.

“If the projections of global climate change do come about it’s likely we will see more years like this in the future”, Dr Done said.

Add to that increased human activity and the likelihood of wide-spread coral reef destruction was almost guaranteed, reef expert John McManus said.

Dr McManus said the main concern was the overfishing of reef stocks, which could affect the natural balance between fish and algae.

“This the real test — we have a large part of the world’s corals which have been bleached”, he said. “Those which come back and those which don’t will tell us lot about the effects of coral bleaching.

Reef expert Gregor Hobson said Australia, in particular North Queensland, played a vital role in ensuring the survival or the world’s reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef’s status as the largest and healthiest reef system in the world makes it an ideal role model for other countries, he said.

 

The Minister of Environment, Robert Hill, had previously announced that high temperature was not the cause of coral bleaching, and issued an order that no Australian Government employee, including those at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, was allowed to discuss any possible connection. 

The Australian authorities refused to allow me to present the global coral reef temperature data at their 1998 coral reef management conference in Townsville, during the height of the mass bleaching that affected most of the world’s coral reefs that year.

Hundreds of coral reef managers from all over the world, whose reefs were bleaching and dying at that very moment, were told instead that nobody knew the cause, except that it was NOT high temperature!

At the official press conference afterwards, Terry Done, leader of the national GBR monitoring efforts, was asked by a reporter “Dr Done, is it true that the Australian Government has ordered all government employees not to discuss any possible connection between global warming and bleaching?”. Terry, wearing a big grin, said “I couldn’t possibly comment on that!”.

The Australian authorities completely ignored these warnings, and now them seem to be surprised that what happened to the GBR was exactly what I had predicted would happen at these temperatures. 

The very Australian scientists who refused to admit that global warming was a threat to their coral reefs, now claim to have “discovered” the impacts, as usual by ignoring what was done before them. 

By change I’m back in Townsville 20 years later to give an invited keynote talk at the Global Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference, and mentioned how we kept entire coral reefs in Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia alive with Biorock technology during severe bleaching events that killed more than 95% of the corals on nearby reefs.

But the Australian authorities still won’t allow us to do this in the GBR! Yesterday Cairns had record hot temperatures, and the bleaching season is fast approaching. 

The facts have long been in: we passed the global temperature tipping point for mass coral bleaching in the 1980s, and governments have been denying the facts for more than 30 years: http://www.globalcoral.org/we-have-already-exceeded-the-upper-temperature-limit-for-coral-reef-ecosystems-which-are-dying-at-todays-co2-levels/

Until we have intelligent and informed political leadership, we can expect no action to reduce atmospheric CO2 to rescue our planet’s life support systems in time to prevent the functional extinction of coral reef ecosystems, a capital crime against the environment that will take millions of years to undo. 

Yesterday’s rejection of the US national climate change report by the US president shows once again that when lies trump truth, the dark ages follow. 

Biorock brings corals back in Ambon

The corals of Ambon, in the Moluccas of Eastern Indonesia, were made famous by some of the greatest Natural Historians who ever lived.
 
In the 1600s Georg Eberhard Rumpf, better known as Rumphius, described hundreds of new species of Ambonese plants and marine animals, including corals, even though he could not see them because he was completely blind and described them by feeling the specimens with his hands. 
 
 
 
In the 1800s Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the Laws of Evolution, was spellbound by the stunning variety of shapes and colors of corals completely covering the bottom of Ambon Bay.  
 
 
Even though he never could see them except looking over the side of a boat into the crystal clear waters, Wallace realized from that glimpse that there was as fantastic a world in the reefs as he found in the jungles, and longed to be able to dive like a fish and see them as close up as the birds, mammals, and insects he studied. And so had Charles Darwin. 
 
Portrait of Charles Darwin
 
That only happened when Prof. Thomas F. Goreau became the first diving marine scientist in the 1940s. 
 
Ambon was for centuries a major center of the spice trade. Greatly increased populations cut down the jungles along the shore. Mud, and later, sewage and plastic, polluted the bay and killed almost all the corals (D. Ontosari, P. T. Karissa, M. Tjatur, H. Lating, R. Sudharna, K. Astika, I. M. Gunaksa, & T. Goreau, 2015, Geotourism combining geo-biodiversity and sustainable development of tropical Holocene coral reef ecosystems: Comparison of two Indonesia eco-regions using Biorock technology, Proceedings Joint Convention Balikpapan HAGI-IAGI-IAFMI-IATMI).
 
Biorock Indonesia, the Maluku Fisheries Department, local fishermen, and students from Universitas Pattimura have been growing Biorock coral reefs in the muddy waters inside Ambon Bay that amazed Rumphius and Wallace back when the waters were transparent. 
 
This project, started by Komang Astika, Prawita Tasya Karissa, and Ruselan Sudharna, managed by Sandhi Raditya, and sponsored by Pertamina, has already stimulated settlement of new branching Acropora corals that had nearly vanished (see photos below). 
 
Here on Ambon nearly 30 years ago Muslims and Christians were killing each other, goaded by outside religious fanatics. Now in this place there are Biorock coral reefs shaped like a church and a mosque, side by side, to emphasize that the environment affects every single one of us, whether we realize it or not, and that we must all work together to regenerate it for the sake of future generations.
 
More Biorock reefs will be installed in the next few days.
 
Rumphius and Wallace would be delighted!
 
Updates to this project can be found here
 
 
BIOROCK AMBON, November 18 2018, photos by Komang Astika and Sandhi Raditya

Acropora, Merulina, and Pocillipora

 

Euphyllia ancora

Acropora

Acropora

Acropora

 

Acropora

Biorock Oyster, Salt Marsh, and Sea Grass Restoration for Coastal Protection, Fisheries Habitat Regeneration, Submerged Breakwaters, and Artificial Islands

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

INTRODUCTION

Biorock technology, first invented in 1976 in Grand Isle, Louisiana by the late Wolf Hilbertz, architecture professor at the University of Texas at Austin (Hilbertz, 1979; Goreau & Hilbertz 2005), provides the highest settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to extreme environmental stresses such as temperature, mud, and pollution for all marine organisms investigated (Goreau, 2014), including corals, oysters, salt marsh grass, and seagrass, the very ecosystem builders whose loss has caused massive global coastal erosion. The method is completely safe and uses very little power. Biorock materials, which can be grown in any size or shape, are up to 3 or more times harder than concrete, and are the only marine construction materials that grow stronger with age and are self-repairing if physically damaged (Goreau 2012). Biorock technology saves whole coral reefs when they would die from extreme high temperature bleaching. Biorock methods have grown thriving oyster, salt marsh, and sea grass ecosystems in places where they had died completely and failed to regenerate naturally (Goreau & Trench, 2012). Biorock reefs have grown back severely eroded beaches naturally in just months (Goreau & Prong, 2017). It is therefore the most powerful tool for restoring essential but vanishing marine ecosystem services including protection of the coast from erosion, maintenance of biodiversity, and restoration of essential juvenile fish habitat. It is also the most cost-effective marine regeneration method, providing vastly superior results at much lower cost than the methods that have been used previously. This GCRA White Paper outlines the results of previous relevant work (apart from coral reefs which have been discussed elsewhere), and suggests specific applications to restore rapidly retreating coastal ecosystems.

PREVIOUS WORK: OYSTERS

The first Biorock projects, done at Grand Isle, Louisiana, aimed to produce building materials via seawater electrolysis, by precipitating hard limestone minerals from sea water on top of steel frames. The steel was entirely protected from corrosion and hard white minerals grew over it. The first projects were powered by photovoltaic panels, and when Wolf Hilbertz came back three months later the limestone was completely overgrown with adult sized oysters that had spontaneously settled and grown all over it (Hilbertz, 1979). Oyster covered material from Louisiana is the Biorock in the upper left of the image below.

Figure 1. Spontaneously oyster covered Biorock material after three months growth in Louisiana (upper left) contrasted with Biorock material grown in the Maldives. Photo by Wolf Hilbertz.

A wire mesh basket, 9 inches across, was wired up for growth of materials, a few months later it was packed completely full with oysters that had spontaneously settled and grown (Goreau, 2012). The basket was then taken out of the water, and sat outdoors for around 25 years exposed to rain in a backyard in British Columbia. When it was removed from the ocean there was no rust visible and the metal was shiny, all the rusting in the photo took place in this period of exposure on land.

Figure 2. Oysters that spontaneously settled in a metal basket and grew to adult size in months. Grand Isle, Louisiana. Photo by Eric Vanderzee.

Similar intense spontaneous settlement of mussels was observed in an experiment in the Straits of Georgia, British Columbia (Goreau, 2012). The photo below shows a mesh wired up to a trickle charge in the center, on with a smaller charge on the left, and one with no charge on the right.

Figure 3. Spontaneous mussel settlement on steel mesh with very low (left), low (center), and zero trickle charge. Photo by Eric Vanderzee.

In a Superfund toxic waste site in New York City harbor where all the oysters had died from pollution, oysters (Crassostrea virginica) were grown with low, very low, and zero Biorock charges. The Biorock charges greatly increased growth rates over the entire growing season. Note that only length figures were measured, Biorock oysters also grew wider and thicker, so their volume increase was hundreds of times higher than controls (Shorr et al., 2012).

Figure 4. Growth in length of oysters with various trickle charges at a Superfund site in New York City over a summer growing season. Figure from Shorr et al., 2012.

At the same site oysters were measured over the winter dormant season. Biorock oysters continued to grow all winter long, without a dormant season, their shells were shiny and bright, and there was no mortality. Ninety-three per cent of control oysters died over the winter, and the surviving oyster shells had shrunk in size. The shells were chalky and crumbling, dissolving from high CO2 and acidity in water at freezing temperatures (Shorr et al., 2012).

Figure 5. Growth in length of oysters with various trickle charges at a Superfund site in New York City over a winter dormant season. Figure from Shorr et al., 2012.

Similar results of higher growth rate and survival of the Eastern Oyster with Biorock electrical currents were found in flow through tank experiments in downtown Manhattan (Berger et al., 2012), and other sites. Only Atlantic Oyster results are summarized here, but we have also found greatly accelerated settlement, growth, and survival of many species of wild tropical oysters on Biorock projects around the world, including mangrove oysters, coral reef oysters, and pearl oysters, as well as Giant Clams.

PREVIOUS WORK: SALT MARSH

Salt Marsh Grass, Spartina alterniflora, was restored at a Superfund toxic waste site in New York City where it had been killed by pollution a century before. Salt marsh grass growth in the mid intertidal under low, very low, and zero trickle charge from a solar panel was measured. The growth rate, as measured by clump height, was proportional to electrical charge (Cervino et al., 2012). The electrically charged grass was also observed to have more plants per clump and darker green leaves as well as greater height when compared to controls, but biomass measurements were not made as they required sacrificing the grass.

Figure 6. Growth rate of Salt Marsh Grass under zero, very low, and low trickle charge. Solar panel charging project is seen in the background (Photograph by James Cervino).

Salt marsh grass was also planted with and without solar trickle charge in the low intertidal, lower than the lower limit of the seagrass naturally in the area. Salt marsh grass growth is limited in the low intertidal because they are mostly submerged, getting little light in the muddy water, and are more exposed to storm wave erosion than plants higher up. All controls died at the end of the year. Biorock salt marsh grass in this hostile site has grown vigorously, sprung up anew every spring with more plants, which have increased more than 20-fold over 10 years (Cervino et al., 2012).

Figure 7. Biorock Salt Marsh Grass growing vigorously below the local lower limit for this plant. (Photograph by Tom Goreau)

Most salt marsh planting projects fail because plants are washed away by waves before the roots can grow. These results show that with Biorock, root growth, and underground plant runner spreading is greatly accelerated, so salt marshes can be extended seawards in places where they are now retreating inland due to the erosion caused by global sea level rise and intensified storm waves caused by global warming (Goreau, 2012).

PREVIOUS WORK: SEAGRASS

Seagrasses are being devastated worldwide by dredging and increased turbidity and pollution in coastal waters. Seagrasses (Posidonia oceanica) were grown in southern Italy with and without trickle charge from a solar panel. The wire mesh used for both was attached to hard bare limestone rock bottom. The Biorock seagrass grew vigorously, with the roots rapidly attaching to the rock bottom, and large numbers of mussels, clams, oysters, shrimps, crabs, and fish settled in the sea grass habitat. The controls all died (Vaccarella & Goreau, 2012). What is most astonishing about these results is that the sea grass was grown on bare rock, where it is normally impossible for seagrass to grow, as growth of roots requires about 5-10 centimeters of sandy or muddy sediment.

Figure 8. Excellent growth of seagrass on Biorock over three months in the Mediterranean. All control seagrass died. Photograph by Raffaele Vaccarella.

Figure 9. Dense root growth of seagrass on Biorock in the Mediterranean, colonized by a wide variety of invertebrates and fishes. Photograph by Raffaele Vaccarella.

Caribbean seagrasses, Thalassia testudinum and Syringodium filiforme, were observed to grow much taller under and next to Biorock projects in the Bahamas and Panama. Many species of Indo Pacific seagrasses were observed to do the same in Indonesia.

Figure 10. Vigorous sea grass growth around a Biorock project in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photograph by Paulus Prong.

Most seagrass, salt marsh, and mangrove planting projects fail because the plants are washed away by waves before the roots can grow. These results show that with Biorock, marine plant root growth and underground spread is greatly accelerated, so that sea grass can be grown even on bare rock. Restoring mangroves as well as sea grasses, salt marsh grasses, and coral and oyster reefs will provide the strongest natural shore protection against erosion from global climate change, and the most cost-effective carbon sinks.

PREVIOUS WORK: BEACH RESTORATION

Biorock coral reefs grown in front of severely eroding beaches with erosion cliffs, where the sand was mostly gone, trees were falling into the sea, and buildings being moved inland before they could collapse, grew back the beach sand naturally at record rates in just months, increasing beach height up to 1.5-2 meters, beach width by up to 20 meters, and beach length up to 150 meters. Rapid regeneration of severely eroded beaches was first done in the Maldives (Goreau and Hilbertz, 2005), Lombok, Indonesia (Goreau et al., 2012), and Sulawesi, Indonesia (Goreau & Prong, 2017). Concave eroding beaches became convex and growing in a few months, and have continued to steadily grow even under heavy wave and current conditions that should erode them. Biorock reefs cause sand growth by dissipating wave energy through refraction and diffraction without the reflection that causes scour and erosion, by driving wave fronts out of coherence, and by greatly increasing production of sand by calcareous algae and other organisms. Corals, beach sand-producing algae, seagrass, and all forms of reef life are attracted and grow rapidly.

Figure 11. Before: severely eroding Maldives beach. Photograph by Wolf Hilbertz

Figure 12. After, 15 meters (50 feet) of rapid new beach growth behind Biorock reef, in front of a building that had been about to collapse into the sea. Photograph by Azeez Hakeem.

Figure 13. Before, December 2015, Pulau Gangga, Sulawesi, Indonesia beach largely gone, erosion cliff, trees collapsing into the ocean and building about to fall into the sea. Photograph by Paulus Prong.

Figure 14. After, rapid growth of new beach in front of same collapsed tree and cabana that had been about to fall into the ocean. Most of this growth took place in just 3 months. Photograph by Paulus Prong.

PREVIOUS WORK: HURRICANE SURVIVAL

Biorock reefs, if properly designed, have proven to withstand the most severe hurricane. The Biorock reefs cement themselves to hard ground, and cement sediment around their bases. Biorock reefs in Grand Turk, the Turks and Caicos Islands, withstood direct hits by the two worst hurricanes in their history, which occurred three days apart, and damaged or destroyed around 90% of the buildings. There was little damage to Biorock structures or thousands of corals growing on them, although electrical cables were sandblasted and ripped out. Sand accumulated under them, while at the same time concrete artificial reefs nearby caused so much scour around and under them that they sank beneath the surface (Wells et al, 2010).

Figure 15a. Biorock reef just before the two worst hurricanes in Grand Turk history.

Figure 15b. Biorock reef in Grand Turk shortly after the two worst hurricanes in their history. Sand built up under the structures while sand was scoured around the cement blocks in the center, and half of the blocks were washed away by the waves, while there was no damage to Biorock structure or corals. The structures were not welded, only hand wired together, nor were they attached to the bottom except through their own cementation. Photographs by Fernando Perez.

Biorock reefs in Saint Barthelemy withstood the eye wall waves of Category 5 Hurricane Irma without any damage to structure, corals, or the electrical cable. This site, about 2-3 feet deep on top of the reef crest, had waves at least 30 feet high breaking directly on it, and all the houses and hotels on the beach behind the reef were destroyed: http://www.globalcoral.org/biorock-electric-coral-reefs-survive-severe-hurricanes-little-no-damage/.

PROPOSED PROJECTS

Biorock is ideal to grow:

Coral reefs in the subtidal
Seagrass in the subtidal
Salt marshes, in the intertidal
Oyster reefs in the intertidal
Offshore subtidal or intertidal Biorock porous shore protection reefs and fish habitat to grow back beaches
Offshore artificial islands above high tide
Floating reefs for open ocean fisheries

Specific designs require on-site assessment of many physical, chemical, biological, geological, oceanographic, meteorological, and infrastructural parameters to design for the specific needs and problems of each site.

Please contact info@globalcoral.org for more information on how Biorock is the most-cost effective solution to a vast range of marine resource management problems.

The Global Coral Reef Alliance is a non-profit environmental research organization that works with local partners around the globe to assess and reverse the causes killing their reefs.

REFERENCES

N. Berger, M. Haseltine, J. T. Boehm, & T. J. Goreau, 2012, Increased oyster growth and survival using Biorock Technology, in T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

J. Cervino, D. Gjoza, C. Lin, R. Weeks, & T. J. Goreau, 2012, Electrical fields increase salt marsh survival and growth and speed restoration in adverse conditions, in T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

T. J. Goreau, 2012, Marine electrolysis for building materials and environmental restoration, p. 273-290 in Electrolysis, J. Kleperis & V. Linkov (Eds.), InTech Publishing, Rijeka, Croatia

T. J. Goreau, 2012, Marine ecosystem electrotherapy: practice and theory, in T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

T. J. Goreau, 2014, Electrical stimulation greatly increases settlement, growth, survival, and stress resistance of marine organisms, Natural Resources, 5:527-537
http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/nr.2014.510048

T. J. Goreau & W. Hilbertz, 2005, Marine ecosystem restoration: costs and benefits for coral reefs, WORLD RESOURCE REVIEW, 17: 375-409

T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), 2012, Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

T. J. Goreau, W. Hilbertz, A. Azeez A. Hakeem, T. Sarkisian, F. Gutzeit, & A. Spenhoff, 2012, Restoring reefs to grow back beaches and protect coasts from erosion and global sea level rise, in T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

T. J. F. Goreau & P. Prong, 2017, Biorock reefs grow back severely eroded beaches in months, Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, Special Issue on Coastal Sea Levels, Impacts, and Adaptation, J. Mar. Sci. Eng., 5(4), 48; doi:10.3390/jmse5040048

W. Hilbertz, 1979, Electrodeposition of minerals in sea water: Experiments and Applications, IEEE Journal on Ocean Engineering, OE4: 1-19

J. Shorr, J. Cervino. C. Lin, R. Weeks, & T. J. Goreau, 2012, Electrical stimulation increases oyster growth and survival in restoration projects, in T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

R. Vaccarella & T. J. Goreau, 2012, Restoration of seagrass mats (Posidonia oceanica) with electrical stimulation, in T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press

L. Wells, F. Perez, M. Hibbert, L. Clervaux, J. Johnson, & T. Goreau, 2010, Effect of severe hurricanes on Biorock coral reef restoration projects in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands, Revista Biologia Tropical, 58: 141-149

Biorock electrical fields inhibit shark biting

Article by Diana Crow published on April 5th 2018 in the Sierra Club magazine
Original article @ sierraclub.org.

Electric Shark Boogaloo

Is there such a thing as an electric fence, but for sharks?

PHOTO BY ISTOCK | WHITCOMB RD

BY DIANA CROW | APR 5 2018

Marine biologist Marcella Pomárico Uchôa stood at the edge of a small boat in the Bimini region in the Bahamas, watching a floating piece of white PVC pipe, rigged with wires and a bag of minced meat, bob up and down with the waves. It wasn’t long before the sharks arrived.

The sharks weren’t shy about their interest in the minced meat. They charged toward it at full-speed, only to swerve away at the last moment. In contrast, the Bermuda chubs and bar jacks swam right up to the rig and grabbed a snack without hesitation. Something was changing the sharks’ behavior.

The two species Uchôa’s study focused on—bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi)—can sense electric fields in the water. Their electrosensory organs—called the ampullae of lorenzini—are sensitive enough to detect the electric activity in their prey’s nervous systems, allowing sharks to lunge at their prey blind.

As Uchôa and her colleagues reported in the journal Animal Biology last year, the wire and PVC rig emitted a low voltage electric current that seemed to befuddle the two species of shark. Ordinary fish—without an electromagnetic sixth sense—didn’t seem to notice the electricity at all.

As far as the observers on the boat could tell, the sharks weren’t hurt by the electric field. “Sharks just avoid them because it’s confusing,” explains the study’s co-author Thomas Goreau of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, an organization that restores coral reefs by building artificial electric reefs.

This confusion could open up new markets for Goreau’s coral reef restoration business. Back in 1987, Goureau was writing coastal zone management plans for hotels and fisheries in Jamaica when he met an architect and inventor named Wolf Hilbertz. Hilbertz had been developing construction materials for underwater buildings when he found that electrically charged metal attracts dissolved minerals in seawater. Over time, these minerals build up, forming a material similar to concrete–or to the calcium carbonate of coral reefs.

The two began designing synthetic electric reefs—which they called “Biorocks”—meant to slow coastal erosion and provide habitat for coral reef species in areas that had seen massive coral reef damage. About 400 were installed in over a dozen countries including off the coast of Panama, the Saya de Malha bank near the island nation of Seychelles, and Gili Trawangan in Indonesia. Most are close to shorelines and draw from the nearby islands’ power grids, but Goreau and his colleagues have been experimenting with using renewable power sources such as solar panels and wave power generation.

In thirty years, Goreau had never seen a predatory shark hanging out near a Biorock reef. Then, while giving a talk at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, he met Uchôa, who was a marine science grad student at the time. The two began looking into whether Goreau’s experience could be backed up by real-world experiments, and whether Biorocks could function sort of like underwater electric fences, steering sharks away from popular diving areas.

Shark bait experiment in progress. Photo courtesy of Marcella Pomárico Uchôa.

Using sharks’ electromagnetic sense to direct shark traffic away from humans isn’t a new idea. Several electricity-emitting “shark-repelling”products–most of them wearable or attachable to surf boards—are already on the market. Whether these electromagnetic shark deterrents actually work is another question. “It depends on what you mean by working,” says marine biologist Charlie Huveneers of Flinders University in Australia. “If you’re asking whether they would stop or protect people all of the time in 100% of situations, then no, they don’t work. If you’re asking whether they have an effect on the behavior of sharks, then yes, they do work.”

Shark deterrent field tests by academic marine biologists—who are independent of the deterrent-making companies—have found that those effects can vary quite a bit. Sometimes, the sharks seem to hesitate in the presence of an electric field but go in for the kill anyway. Sometimes, they don’t go for the bait but stay within a few meters of the boat. The effects differ between species, and a few people have even been bitten while wearing electromagnetic shark “deterrents”.

Ideally, says says shark biologist Ryan Kempster of the University of Western Australia, the electrical field produced by a shark deterrent should be tailored specifically to the size and species of the shark in question, because every species detects and responds differently to electric fields of varying strengths and frequencies.

“The problem with shark deterrents,” adds says Huveneers, “is that there’s no real regulation in terms of what the deterrents need to be able to do to be called ‘deterrent’. And manufacturers can make a lot of claims about the device that they’re selling without ensuring the veracity of those claims,”

If Biorocks work to keep sharks away from beaches that are popular with divers, such a scenario could be beneficial to sharks, since they are more likely to be hurt or killed by humans than the other way around. But Goreau freely admits that more research is needed. The PVC pipe rig in Uchôa’s experiment emitted an electric field very similar to that of a Biorock reef but not identical. In the majority of the experiments, sharks didn’t swerve from the PVC pipe rig until they were just a few feet away from the reef, which could mean that Biorock placement would have to be strategic to prevent sharks from swimming through areas that the field doesn’t reach to.

Goreau admits that it’s possible that no one has seen large predatory sharks swimming around Biorock reefs simply because there are so few large sharks left worldwide. Rays and nurse sharks, which can also sense electricity, live on and near Biorocks and do not appear to be affected by the Biorocks’ electric fields. It is possible, though, that the electrical field could have some effect on the behavior of sharks, rays, and skates that is not readily apparent. That alone is reason to be cautious, according to Uchôa.

In the meantime, Goreau remains excited. Students monitoring the Biorock reefs in Indonesia have noticed large numbers of young fish swimming around the artificial reefs. Because sharks, rays, and skates are the only fish known to have electrosense, this raises the question of what is bringing them there. “We do get enormous recruitment of larval fish when the power is on, much more so than when the power is off,” says Goreau. “There’s an enormous need to expand this work.”

We Have Already Exceeded the Upper Temperature Limit for Coral Reef Ecosystems, Which are Dying at Today’s CO2 Levels

GCRA WHITE PAPER
April 2, 2018

 
Talanoa White Paper, GCRA 2018

2018 Talanoa Dialogue Platform

We Have Already Exceeded the Upper Temperature Limit for Coral Reef Ecosystems, Which are Dying at Today’s CO2 Levels

Thomas J. F. Goreau, Raymond L. Hayes, & Ernest Williams
 

THE PROBLEM
We are already beyond the upper temperature tolerance for coral reef ecosystems, and they can stand no further warming. Coral reef ecosystems will soon vanish unless atmospheric CO2 concentrations are rapidly reduced to pre-industrial levels.

Most corals in the world died from heat shock after the 1980s, when the world passed the tipping point temperature threshold for mass coral bleaching. Global warming heat waves are now killing corals so rapidly that 95-99% of corals (some thousands of years old) in pristine reefs can die in just days or weeks. Further warming will be a death sentence for coral reefs, the most biodiverse and productive of marine ecosystems. The press widely reports “scientists agree that 2º C, or 1.5º C warming is acceptable”, ignoring the ecological disaster that has already happened, and tacitly condemning coral reefs to death as the first ecosystem to be driven to extinction from fossil fuel greenhouse gas (GHG) caused global warming. This will severely damage marine biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, shore protection, and beach sand supply of over 100 countries, and sentence billions of people to lose their homes from future coastal flooding.

Coral reef bleaching is long known to be a general response to environmental stresses, but almost all coral bleaching is caused by high temperature heat shock. Temperatures above normal body temperature (37˚C) trigger human heat stress responses. Muscle cramps and excessive sweating are symptoms. If not relieved, heat exhaustion, and then heat stroke follow. Untreated heat stroke leads to failure of physiological mechanisms and death. Similarly, heat-shocked bleached coral (typically in water temperatures above 29.4˚C), is unable to defend itself against thermal stress. Coral reef bleaching, when symbiotic algae and host tissues dissociate, can be reversed if stress is quickly relieved. But any further rise in temperature or prolonged heat exposure leads irreversibly to death.

Coral bleaching has been known for a hundred years, but until the 1980s, it was only seen on small scales in tide pools cut off from water circulation at low tide, or in response to hurricane sediment and fresh water flooding. In 1918, and again in 1928, it was found that only around 1o C warming caused coral bleaching, and a little more killed them. These limits have not changed. When the first mass regional bleaching events took place in 1982-1983, almost all corals in the East Pacific (Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Galapagos) died. Peter Glynn, who that year published the first book on Galapagos and East Pacific corals, studied every possible potential cause, and found only high temperature could explain it. Many thought that this was simply some peculiar regional coral sensitivity, because if all corals were really so close to their upper limit, why hadn’t it happened before due to natural fluctuations? Within a few years mass coral reef bleaching across the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian Oceans made it clear that the global temperature tipping point world-wide had been suddenly passed in the 1980s.

Goreau and Hayes proposed the HotSpot method for predicting mass coral reef bleaching events from satellite sea surface temperature data (SST) in the late 1980s. They, Ernest Williams, Lucy Bunkley- Williams, and Peter Glynn pointed out that there had been NO regional mass coral bleaching events ever seen anywhere before 1982, but mass bleaching suddenly began and happened worldwide nearly every year since. They emphasized that continued warming would destroy coral reef ecosystems. Unfortunately, their predictions, widely ridiculed as alarmist at the time, have come true. Governments ignored scientific evidence of global warming, claiming that reefs were “resilient” and would “bounce right back”, funding research to blame anything else and those telling them what they wanted to hear.

The temperature thresholds for mass coral bleaching determined in the 1980s have not changed since. Bleaching events have gotten worse and more frequent, so dive shops now regard them as “normal” and no longer report bleaching, because it is “bad for business”. There has been no sign of thermal adaptation, corals still bleach at the same temperatures, but every year there are less left to bleach. Reef ecosystem function, structure, and biodiversity are collapsing, resulting in reefs with only a few species of “weedy” corals left. These can stand slightly higher temperatures, but even their limits are now being exceeded, and more frequently with further global warming, so they too will vanish. Even corals that have luckily survived bleaching events have been badly weakened by worldwide outbreaks of new coral diseases, which intensify during high temperature events, and often follow beaching events. For coral reefs to survive global warming must be rapidly reversed.

In 1992, before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio de Janeiro, the Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA) warned Ambassadors of the Association of Small Island States that agreeing to further increases in temperature was a suicide pact, that if prompt and deliberate measures were not taken to stop global warming right away most of the corals in the world would die from high temperature in the next 20 years. That is exactly what has happened. Yet governments and funding agencies continue to ignore that coral reefs are the most sensitive and vulnerable of all ecosystems to high temperature and pollution, wasting millions on propaganda about “managing” “resilient” reefs, instead of dealing with the root causes: GHGs from fossil fuels and land degradation.

Ocean acidification was understood long before the 1970s. Acidification is already a problem for cold and deep-water life, but NOT yet for tropical marine ecosystems. Because of the inverse relation between CO2 solubility and temperature, polar water holds three times more CO2 than equatorial water. Acidification is not a factor in death of corals, which recover from it. Corals are already dying worldwide at current temperatures but every press article about ocean acidification shows photographs of corals bleached by high temperatures, even though acidification neither kills corals nor does it bleach them! Skeletons of living corals can be completely dissolved in acid, but the coral tissue retains its color, and will survive and grow a new skeleton when put in normal seawater. Corals will need to use more energy to grow skeletons in acidic seawater, but acidification is not the existential threat to tropical coral survival widely and incorrectly claimed, although it is a real threat to deep sea cold water reefs. Ignoring the fact that coral reefs are already at their upper-temperature limit, and focusing on acidification problems for tropical coral reefs is a dangerously irresponsible and politically-motivated red herring. If CO2 is reduced in time to stop global warming from killing corals all global acidification problems are automatically solved. But focusing only on stopping acidification impacts on reefs guarantees corals will die sooner from heat stroke, and decades to centuries later the reefs made of their long-dead skeletons will eventually dissolve!

An author of this paper (TG) was Senior Scientific Affairs Officer for Global Climate Change and Biodiversity at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology for Development in 1989 when the first draft of the UNFCCC was being prepared, prior to its distribution to governments. He inserted into the draft that one of the purposes of the Convention was to protect Earth’s most climatically-sensitive ecosystems, that these should be monitored for signs of dangerous climate change impacts, that there should be a trigger mechanism to reduce GHG emissions if climate damage was found, and that ALL GHG sources and sinks should be monitored. To force a politically acceptable compromise, all wording making these points were removed and replaced with vague subjective phrases like “acceptable warming.” The result of this fudged compromise is the perilous deterioration that ice caps and coral reefs have now reached. Governments who made this compromise failed their basic duty to protect their people, with the small island nations being the first and worst victims. This failure must not be repeated.

Governments are fooling themselves about how severe runaway climate change will be and how long it will last. IPCC projections focus on short-term responses over decades to centuries, ignoring long-term effects. The consequences are well known to climate scientists, but were not included because IPCC’s mandate from Governments reflects political needs, not scientific priorities. The inertia of the climate system inevitably caused by the fact that it takes 1500 years for the ocean to mix is ignored. Since deep ocean waters has been chilled by polar ice caps and are now just above freezing, until the deep sea warms up the full warming will not be felt at Earth’s surface. Heat is flowing down into the deep cold ocean, but surface temperatures have a built-in time lag response of thousands of years after atmosphere GHGs increase. Sea level has even longer time lags due to slow melting of the polar ice caps, which will continue for thousands of years, but there could be sudden increases under extreme warming when whole glaciers, lubricated underneath by meltwater, slide into the sea. Three rapid increases of 6.5, 7.5, and 13.5 meters are documented in fossil coral reefs during rapid ice melting at the end of the last Ice Age.

Nearly a million years of climate data from Antarctic ice cores clearly show that present atmospheric CO2 concentration of 400 ppm could lead to ultimate steady-state response of global temperatures around 17 C higher than now, and sea levels around 23 meters higher, many times more than IPCCC’s projections (see the data figures below). These effects will persist for hundreds of thousands of years unless GHG concentrations are rapidly reduced to pre-industrial levels. Eventually high temperatures and rotting marine life will remove oxygen from the water, turning the ocean into a dead zone, stinking with the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide. Organic matter will then pile up in deep ocean sediments, eventually removing the excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Every time this happened in the geological past, coral reef ecosystems went extinct for millions of years until new reef-building corals could evolve. To avoid the inevitable long-term impacts of runaway climate change we must urgently take scientifically-sound action to reduce GHGs to pre-industrial levels now.

2018 Talanoa Dialogue Platform, GCRA White Paper
CO2, temperature, and sea level over the last 800,000 years from Antarctic Ice cores suggest the steady state temperature and sea level for today’s CO2 is 17 Celsius and 23 meters higher. Data from Rohling (2008), annotated by Goreau (2014).

2018 Talanoa Dialogue Platform, GCRA White Paper
The last time temperature was 1-2º C warmer, sea level was 7 meters higher, crocodiles and hippopotamuses lived in London, England, yet CO2 was 270 ppm, one third lower than today (Goreau 2014)

THE SOLUTIONS
Scientifically-sound solutions to save coral reefs are well established but are not being used on the scale needed, due to lack of funding. It has been known for more than 200 years that corals can be propagated by fragmentation, and that these methods only work when water quality is excellent. All the corals die when the water becomes too hot, muddy, or polluted. The only methods that will work in the future to maintain coral populations, while temperature and pollution are accelerating globally, are new methods that greatly increase coral settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to stress.

Because it directly stimulates the natural energy-generating mechanisms of all forms of life, GCRA’s Biorock electrical reef regeneration technology is the only method known that can grow Coral Arks to save species from extinction. Other coral restoration methods work only as long as it never gets too hot, muddy, or polluted, but the corals die from heat stroke when their temperature limits are exceeded, while most Biorock reef corals survive. The Biorock method keeps entire reefs alive when they would die, providing high coral survival when 95-99% of surrounding reef corals bleach and die from heat shock. It also grows back dead reefs and severely eroded beaches at record rates in places where there has been no natural recovery. Since there is no funding for serious reef restoration or shore protection anywhere in the world it is now being used only on a symbolic scale. The method uses Safe Extremely Low Voltage (SELV) direct current (DC) trickle charges that can be provided by energy of the sun, winds, waves, and ocean currents. It works for all marine ecosystems, coral reefs, oyster and mussel reefs, fisheries habitat, seagrasses, salt marshes, and mangroves. Severely eroded beaches recovered naturally just months after wave-resistant limestone reefs were grown in front of them. Because these reefs can be grown in any size or shape, increase growth and survival of all marine organisms, and since habitat can be designed for specific needs of different fish and shellfish, they provide a new paradigm for highly productive and sustainable multi-species mariculture of entire complex ecosystems that produce their own food.

Further human-caused warming tragically means that coral reefs may only survive in the long run on electrical life-support systems until GHGs and temperatures are reduced to near pre-industrial levels, but this is the only interim alternative remaining to preserve the world’s most valuable economic and environmental ecosystem services until pre-industrial GHG levels can be achieved. Nearly 60% of all global ecosystem service economic losses are from coral reef degradation. Reefs occupy less than 0.1% of the ocean so they suffer natural ecosystem service economic losses around a thousand times the global average. This is largely borne by small island nations, the first and worst victims of a crisis they did not create. Unfortunately, only reefs that can be powered can be saved, but if we don’t save all we can, these may be all we have left, so Biorock Coral Arks need to be greatly expanded to save species. Around 80% of all genera and nearly half the species of tropical reef corals are growing on around 500 Biorock reefs in some 40 countries, around 400 reefs in Indonesia, with the world’s largest and most biodiverse coral reefs.

The long-term solutions are also known. Humanity must regenerate the natural biological mechanisms that regulate atmospheric GHGs and climate by storing excess atmospheric carbon in soils and vegetation. Humans have destroyed about half the world’s biomass and lost about half the soil carbon wherever forests have been converted to agriculture, pastures, and cities. Regenerating soil carbon is the most cost-effective way to stabilize climate at safe levels, avoid dangerous long-term temperature overshoot, and regenerate food supplies and freshwater resources. This could be done in decades if Geotherapy methods already developed to regenerate ecosystems and soil fertility were more widely applied. Soils have around five times more carbon than the atmosphere, and soil carbon can be rapidly increased through regenerative carbon recycling management, including use of biochar, an ancient technology invented by Indigenous Amazonian peoples thousands of years ago to create the world’s most fertile soils in the middle of the most infertile soils on Earth. Properly made biochar lasts holds carbon for thousands of years. Charcoal from forest fires 65 million years ago after the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs, and even as far back as 350 million years ago, are still so perfectly preserved that the plant cells can be clearly seen. Biochar is best made from invasive weedy plants that have made large areas unproductive, converting wasted lands back into biodiverse, highly productive systems that hold far more carbon.

About half of soil carbon is stored in wetlands, and half that in coastal wetlands; mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses, whose soils hold more carbon than the atmosphere, and are responsible for about half the carbon burial in the oceans. These ecosystems, the most carbon-rich, occupy less than a percent of the Earth’s surface, and have been about half destroyed by humans. Restoring mangroves will be the fastest and cheapest way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Most mangrove, seagrass, and salt marsh restoration projects fail as plants wash away before the roots can grow, because of increasing waves due to global sea level rise and global warming. Biorock electrical ecosystem restoration technology grows marine plant roots at much faster rates, and stores more carbon in marine soils, so it regenerates carbon-rich marine coastal ecosystems where other methods fail, protecting coasts from erosion, and regenerating critical juvenile fisheries habitat. GCRA, Biorock Indonesia, and Arsari Enviro Industri will apply these methods to restore destroyed mangroves in Kalimantan (Borneo) in order to turn intense carbon sources into sinks, and for orangutan sanctuaries. Last year, El Niño- caused forest fires burned organic peat soils in deforested and drained wetlands, briefly making Indonesia the world’s largest CO2 source, larger than China or the United States. Indonesia has the world’s largest mangrove and coral reef areas, but more than half the mangroves have been destroyed, and more than 90% of the reefs are damaged or degraded. By regenerating mangroves, coral reefs, fisheries, seagrasses, and beaches with Biorock technology Indonesia could become the world’s largest Carbon sink.

Geotherapy must be clearly distinguished from Geoengineering. Geotherapy is regenerative development to reverse climate change by restoring the natural carbon recycling mechanisms that regulate our planetary life support systems. Many Geoengineering proposals are expensive, unproven, high tech “solutions” that might provide temporary relief at best, but may cause worse problems and side-effects than the problems they claim to solve. Geotherapy has nothing in common with proposals masquerading as “green” solutions to climate change like Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS). BECCS proposes to grow huge plantations of mono-species forests on industrial scales (competing with food production), burn them for energy, and pump the CO2 into holes in the ground, which could cause earthquakes by over-pressuring faults. BECCS irresponsibly treats carbon as waste to be concealed rather than as a valuable natural resource. BECCS will prevent natural carbon and biological nutrient recycling and storage, along with all the long-term Geotherapy benefits that increased soil carbon provides for food and fresh water supplies. Urgent worldwide application of methods to regenerate natural soil carbon and soil fertility are our best hope to reduce GHGs, stabilize them at safe pre-industrial levels, prevent temperature overshoot, and reverse climate change. Immediate global action to apply these methods on a large scale is essential to do this in time to prevent coral reef extinction. Governments must rapidly change course for this to happen.

The authors are coral scientists with roots in Jamaica, Panama, Cuba, Martinique, and Puerto Rico who have worked on reefs worldwide for more than 5 decades. They thank the pioneers of coral bleaching research, Maurice Yonge, Thomas F. Goreau, Nora Goreau, Robert Trench, and Peter Glynn for their long guidance, and Kevin Lister and Michael MacCracken for helpful suggestions on the draft.