Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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
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
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
Thomas J. F. Goreau, Raymond L. Hayes, & Ernest Williams
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.
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.
Coral reefs make up less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the Earth’s surface,1 yet supply resources worth an estimated $375 billion annually, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).2 More than 500 million people around the world depend on coral reefs for protection from storms, food, jobs and recreation, and they provide a home to more than 25 percent of fish species and 800 hard coral species.
As for their importance to their surrounding ecosystems, it is immense, and the sheer diversity of species that depend on coral reefs for spawning, breeding and feeding is equally impressive. There are 34 recognized animal phyla, for instance, and 32 of them are found on coral reefs (even rain forests count only nine different phyla among their midst).3
Sometimes referred to as “rain forests of the sea,” it’s estimated that coral reefs may support up to 2 million different species and act as essential nurseries for one-quarter of fish species.
Coral reefs also serve as carbon sinks, helping to absorb carbon dioxide from the environment, and represent an irreplaceable source of protection for coastal cities. Their importance as a food source is also considerable, as healthy coral reefs can provide about 15 tons of fish and other seafood per square kilometer (.38 square mile) per year.4
Unfortunately, corals are in severe decline. According to conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF), two-thirds of coral reefs worldwide are under serious threat and another one-quarter are considered damaged beyond repair.5 There may, however, be hope, even for damaged reefs, as new technology offers a chance for reefs to regrow at a surprisingly fast pace.
Biorock Technology Restores Coral Reefs
In 2000, it was stated at the International Coral Reef Symposium that about 94 percent of Indonesia’s coral reefs were severely damaged. This included Pemuteran Bay, where the once-thriving coral reef was largely barren. Biorock technology proved to be the answer, restoring the reef in just over a decade:
“Pemuteran formerly had the richest reef fisheries in Bali. The large sheltered bay was surrounded by reefs teeming with fish. The natural population increase was greatly augmented by migration of fishermen from Java and Madura, where inshore fisheries had been wiped out by destructive over-exploitation.
Destructive methods, like use of bombs and cyanide followed their use in other islands, and steadily spread until most of the reefs had been destroyed. The offshore bank reefs that had been dense thickets of coral packed with swarms of fishes, were turned into piles of broken rubble, nearly barren of fish.”6
The Karang Lesteri Project, highlighted in the video above, began in June 2000, when the first “coral nursery” was built at the site. Ultimately, 70 Biorock coral reef structures of different sizes and shapes were planted in the area, restoring the area’s diversity and ecosystem. Formerly known as Seament and Seacrete, Biorock was developed by the late professor Wolf Hilbertz and scientist Thomas Goreau, president of the nonprofit organization the Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA).
Projects are now being operated in Indonesia, Bali, Jamaica, the Republic of Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Phuket, Thailand and elsewhere. The technology starts with metal structures that are planted into the reef. Transplanted fragments of live coral (that have been damaged by storms, anchors or other mishaps) are attached and the structure is fed low-voltage electricity to accelerate the growth process. GCRA explains:7
“The Biorock® process … is a new method that uses low voltage direct current electricity to grow solid limestone rock structures in the sea and accelerate the growth of corals providing homes for reef fish and protecting the shoreline. The electrical current causes minerals that are naturally dissolved in seawater to precipitate and adhere to a metal structure. The result is a composite of limestone and brucite with mechanical strength similar to concrete.
Derived from seawater, this material is similar to the composition of natural coral reefs and tropical sand beaches … This patented process increases the growth rate of corals well above normal, giving them extra energy that allows them to survive in conditions that would otherwise kill them. At the same time these structures attract huge numbers of fish, and also provide breakwaters that get stronger with age.”
GCRA states that Biorock reefs grow at a rate of 1 to several centimeters of new rock per year, which is about three to five times faster than normal. While artificial reefs, which are sometimes made by sinking ships, planes, cars, concrete or other man-made materials, will sometimes attract fish and sponges that settle on their surface, the Biorock reefs ultimately turn into true, living coral reefs, courtesy of the growth of limestone. According to GCRA:8
“Coral larvae, which are millimeter-sized freely-swimming baby corals, will only settle and grow on clean limestone rock. This is why conventional artificial reefs made of tires or concrete rarely exhibit hard coral growth. But, when these coral larvae find a limestone surface, they attach themselves and start to grow skeletons. Mineral accretion is exactly what they are searching for. As a result, there are very high rates of natural coral settlement on Biorock structures.”
Is Biorock Sustainable, and Does It Withstand Hurricanes?
Funding to take Biorock to the next level is limited, with most projects so far acting as pilot projects to demonstrate how the process works. And some coral reef experts, such as Rod Salm, senior adviser emeritus with the Nature Conservancy, have suggested the process is too cost prohibitive to work on a large scale.9 Others have pointed out that its dependence on electricity could also be problematic environmentally, although some of the structures are powered via solar panels.
Further, GCRA evaluated damage to the structures in the Caribbean after hurricanes Hanna, Ike and Irma and found them to be remarkably unfazed. While even large shipwrecks in South Florida were damaged or moved during hurricane Andrew, for instance, the Biorocks’ open frameworks allowed water to flow through the structures, sparing them the brunt of the damage.
“For growing corals, we make open frameworks, so the corals can benefit from the water flow through the structure, just as they do in coral reef,” GCRA notes. “As a result of their low cross section to waves, they dissipate energy by surface friction as waves pass through them, refracting and diffracting waves rather than reflecting them. Their low drag coefficient means that they survive waves that would move or rip apart a solid object of the same size.”10
In research published in the journal Revista de Biologia Tropical by Goreau and colleagues, it’s noted that artificial reefs are often discouraged in shallow waters because of concerns that they could damage surrounding habitat during storms. However, in the case of the Biorock restorations, “the waves passed straight through with little damage,” and the researchers said the “high coral survival and low structural damage” after hurricanes suggests the process is effective even in areas that may be hit by storms.11
Another study by Goreau, published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, suggests Biorock electric reefs are able to grow back severely eroded beaches in just a few months. The study noted:12
“Biorock reefs stimulate settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to the environmental stress of all forms of marine life, restoring coral reefs, sea grasses, biological sand production, and fisheries habitat. Biorock reefs can grow back eroded beaches and islands faster than the rate of sea level rise, and are the most cost-effective method of shore protection and adaptation to global sea level rise for low lying islands and coasts”
What’s Causing Coral Reefs to Die?
Coral reefs are facing numerous threats, including rising water temperatures that lead to coral bleaching, in which coral reject symbiotic algae, turn white, and are at increased risk of dying. Overfishing, which disrupts the ecological balance in the reef, as well as destructive fishing practices, such as the use of cyanide, dynamite, bottom trawling or muro-ami (which involves the use of nets and banging the reef with sticks), are also threats, WWF notes.13
Reefs are also harmed by tourism via boating, anchor drops and people diving, snorkeling around and touching the reefs (or collecting coral), as well as construction, mining and logging, which send excess sediment into rivers and the ocean, where it blocks precious sunlight from reaching the coral reefs. There’s even a live rock trade, in which coral is mined for building materials or to sell as souvenirs, with no regard for the destruction it causes to the planet.14
Pollution is another major threat, including that from industrial farm runoff, which is fueling the growth of marine algae blooms, which alter the food chain and deplete oxygen, leading to sometimes-massive dead zones. Even the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone is known to kill off coral reefs. It’s estimated that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reef areas worldwide every year.
Much of this sunscreen contains oxybenzone, which research found to be damaging at minute levels — just 62 parts per trillion, or the equivalent of one drop of water in 6.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools.15 Aside from entering the water on swimmers, oxybenzone gets washed down the drain when you shower, entering sewage systems. Once in the environment, as a study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology revealed, there are four key ways oxybenzone is damaging coral reefs:16
Exacerbates coral bleaching
Damages coral DNA, making them unable to reproduce and triggering widespread declines in coral populations
Acts as an endocrine disrupter, causing baby coral to encase themselves in their own skeletons and die
Causes gross deformities in coral, such as coral mouths that expand five times larger than normal
Other Techniques Restoring Coral Reefs
Numerous innovative programs are underway with the goal of restoring the world’s coral reefs. The Coral Restoration Foundation is using a program called the coral tree nursery, which is based on the fact that coral are able to grow and reproduce via fragmentation. That is, if a piece breaks off, it can reattach and grow again, forming a new colony.
Their program involves PVC “trees” that are tethered to the ocean floor. Coral fragments are then hung from the “branches.” The fragments come from their coral nurseries, where coral are nursed for up to nine months until they’re read to be attached to the tree. They’ve already produced tens of thousands of corals in their South Florida nurseries.17
In addition, the organization is working to create “healthy thickets of genetically diverse coral that can sexually reproduce and encourage natural recovery.” An estimated 22,000 corals have been “outplanted” in the Florida Keys, in part by volunteer divers, for this purpose.18
Other experts have suggested that releasing natural viruses, known as phages — short for bacteriophage — onto coral with bacterial disease could essentially wipe out the disease, saving the coral.19 Of course, prevention is even better than a cure, and this means taking steps to curb coral declines in the first place.
Changes to industrial agriculture that limit chemical runoff and help sequester carbon into the soil could have meaningful benefits to coral reefs. It’s estimated that one-third of the surplus carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stems from poor land-management processes that contribute to the loss of carbon, as carbon dioxide, from farmlands. This, in turn, contributes to ocean acidification that harms coral, according to Defenders of Wildlife.
“Seawater absorbs some of the excess CO2 from the atmosphere, causing the oceans to become more acidic. As a result, the oceans’ acidity has increased by 25 percent over the past 200 years. These acidic conditions dissolve coral skeletons, which make up the structure of the reef, and make it more difficult for corals to grow.”20
So, in addition to being a responsible swimmer or diver — and not touching or breaking coral — as well as using only natural, reef-friendly sunscreen, support farmers who are using diverse cropping methods, such as planting of cover crops, raising animals on pasture and other methods of regenerative agriculture. This, in addition to the innovative methods like Biorock being used to restore barren reefs, can help protect the ocean’s reefs from further damage.
The Frankenword glossary (Science: 359:154, 2018) omits Frankencorals! It covers death-dealing Frankentechnologies that alarm the public, but life-giving electrical technologies are completely excluded. We’re shocked: none of your examples involves electricity like the Global Coral Reef Alliance’s Biorock electrolysis technology, the sine qua non for genuine membership in the Frankenclub!
Despite widespread electrophobia, Biorock’s electrifying results are entirely beneficial: greatly increased settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to stress of all marine organisms examined, plants and animals, mobile or sessile (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). Instead of convulsions and rigor mortis, Biorock corals uniquely survive severe high temperature bleaching events that kill more than 95% of corals around them, and quickly smile back at us because the low currents used are in the natural range and show no negative effects, except for predatory sharks, which get confused and won’t bite food right in front of them (M. P. Uchoa, C. C. O’Connell, & T. J. Goreau, 2017, The effects of Biorock-associated electric fields on the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) and the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), Animal Biology, DOI 10.1163/15707563-00002531).
Biorock is the only marine material construction material that grows solid self-repairing structures 2-3 times harder than concrete (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), and regenerates severely eroded beaches at record rates (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), rapidly grow beach sand from calcareous algae, restore seagrasses and salt marshes under severe stress where all other methods fail, keep whole coral and oyster reef ecosystems alive when they would die, and grow them back at record rates where there is no natural regeneration (T. J. Goreau & R. K. Trench (Editors), 2012, Innovative Technologies for Marine Ecosystem Restoration, CRC Press). Biorock Indonesia and our partners are about to start Biorock mangrove and Nipa palm restoration of illegally deforested Borneo mangroves for orang utan sanctuaries and to sequester atmospheric CO2 as peat in what we expect to be the single most cost-effective carbon sink.
The reason marine life gets a charge from the Biorock method is that we operate in the beneficial range that galvanizes natural biophysical membrane voltage gradients all forms of life use to make biochemical energy, so they don’t need to use up to half their energy pumping protons and electrons backwards to maintain membrane voltage gradients, whose collapse means death (as caused by high voltages and currents). That’s why we call it electro-tickling, the antithesis of electrocuting high voltage currents everybody is monstrously terrified of!
Two new Global Coral Reef Alliance videos answer the question many people have: what happens in a hurricane? Here we show that Biorock reefs hit by the eye of three of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes, Hanna, Ike, and Irma, suffered almost no physical damage and built up sand around them during the event.
In contrast, solid concrete objects nearby caused so much scour and erosion around and under them that they sank into the sand. Solid breakwaters cause reflection of waves at the solid surface, concentrating all the wave energy in one plane, which causes sand to wash away in front of the structure, then underneath, until it is undermined and collapses. This is the inevitable fate of any vertical seawall, so they need constant and costly repair and replacement. After Hurricane Andrew every single shipwreck in South Florida was torn apart or moved great distances due to the strong surface drag. Not one remained intact.
Biorock electric coral reefs can be any size or shape. For growing corals, we make open frameworks, so the corals can benefit from the water flow through the structure, just as they do in coral reef. As a result of their low cross section to waves, they dissipate energy by surface friction as waves pass through them, refracting and diffracting waves rather than reflecting them. Their low drag coefficient means that they survive waves that would move or rip apart a solid object of the same size.
Here we show what happened to Biorock reefs after the most severe hurricanes ever to hit Saint Barthelemy and Grand Turk. Incredibly, there was little or no physical damage to the structures or to the corals, even though these structures were not welded, simply wired together by hand, and they were not physically attached to the bottom, simply sitting on the bottom under their own weight, attaching themselves to hard bottoms and cementing sand around their bases through growth of limestone rock over their surfaces.
These astonishing results follow our previous video showing the record recovery of severely eroded beaches behind Biorock reefs:
It is important to realize that neither rocks nor structures exposed at low tide shown in this video are an essential part of the method. Almost all of Biorock structures are completely submerged and have no rocks. At Pulau Gangga this design was used to protect the beach from storms at high tide, and effectiveness was more important than aesthetics to the Resort, so they opted not to have what most people want: an invisible watchman that you can’t see at low tide sunset!
In addition, Biorock electric reefs greatly increase the settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to stress of all marine organisms, with only a single known exception: predatory sharks avoid electric fields that confuse them, protecting people and sharks from each other (Uchoa, O’Connell, & Goreau, 2017). In 2016 there was nearly complete survival of Biorock corals during severe high-temperature events that bleached and killed more than 95% of corals on nearby reefs.
Our results show that Biorock electric reefs are the most cost-effective method for saving corals from global warming, restoring reef communities (whether corals, oysters, or mussels), and protecting coastlines from erosion and global sea level rise.
Increasing stress from global warming, sea level rise, acidification, sedimentation, pollution, and unsustainable practices have degraded the most critical coastal ecosystems including coral reefs, oyster reefs, and salt marshes. Conventional restoration methods work only under perfect conditions but fail nearly completely when the water becomes too hot or water quality deteriorates. New methods are needed to greatly increase settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to environmental stress of keystone marine organisms in order to maintain critical coastal ecosystem functions including shore protection, fisheries, and biodiversity. Electrolysis methods have been applied to marine ecosystem restoration since 1976, with spectacular results (Figures 1(a)-(c)). This paper provides the first overall review of the data. Low-voltage direct current trickle charges are found to increase the settlement of corals 25.86 times higher than uncharged control sites, to increase the mean growth rates of reef-building corals, soft corals, oysters, and salt marsh grass— an average of 3.17 times faster than controls (ranging from 2 to 10 times depending on species and conditions), and to increase the survival of electrically charged marine organisms—an average of 3.47 times greater than controls, with the biggest increases under the most severe environmental stresses. These results are caused by the fundamental biophysical stimulation of natural biochemical energy production pathways, used by all organisms, provided by electrical stimulation under the right conditions. This paper reviews for the first time all published results from properly designed, installed, and maintained projects, and contrasts them with those that do not meet these criteria.
How to cite this paper: Goreau, T.J. (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
Low-voltage direct current trickle charges using Biorock electrolytic technology   grow limestone structures
of any size or shape in the sea and produce the only self-repairing marine construction material that gets
stronger with age , and grows breakwaters capable of rapidly growing back severely eroded beaches . But
in addition to physical benefits the process also has profound stimulatory effects on all forms of marine life.
Biorock structures have been repeatedly shown to greatly increase the settlement, healing, growth, survival, and
resistance to stresses such as extreme high temperatures, sedimentation, and eutrophication in stony corals -, soft corals , oysters -, sea grasses , and intertidal salt marsh grasses . Many other organisms, including clams, tunicates, sponges, and fishes have also been observed to greatly increase their populations in electrical fields, but few measurements have been made on them to date. This review summarizes the available data on the effects of low-voltage direct current electrical stimulation on growth rates, survival, stress resistance, and physiology, which suggest the mechanism is a completely general one that benefits all organisms . Results from projects that were properly designed, installed, and maintained are included in the main part of this paper. Because understanding the causes of negative results play an important role in the scientific method, projects that do not meet those criteria of proper design, installation, and maintenance are discussed separately.
2. The Impact of Electrical Stimulation on Marine Organisms
2.1. Published Results from Properly Designed, Installed, and Maintained Projects
The very first Biorock project, built at Grand Isle, Louisiana in 1976, was completely covered by multiple layers of spontaneously settling oysters that grew to adult size in about 3 months . Recent Biorock projects in New York City show dense spontaneous settlement of oysters on rocks near Biorock structures. Nevertheless, no controlled studies of oyster settlement have yet been conducted. By the late 1980s it was found that electrically stimulated corals grew 3 – 5 times record rates for their species, even under conditions of severe stress. Since then hundreds of projects have been built all across the Caribbean, Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia, with most projects being in Indonesia, the global center of marine biodiversity. While slowly growing Biorock structures have been densely covered with hundreds of spontaneously recruiting corals  , only two studies have documented coral settlement on them  . When these are compared to spontaneous recruitment of corals in natural habitats in the same units (recruits per square meter per month) the rates of settlement on electrically charged Biorock are found to be 1 to 4 orders of magnitude greater (Figure 2(a)), with a mean of 25.86 times higher than those reported from field settling experiments.
Growth rates of reef building hard corals -, gorgonian soft coral , oysters -, and salt marsh grass (Spartina alterniflora)  have been quantitatively compared on Biorock with identical clones off Biorock
in the same habitat. The results show that the electrically stimulated organisms grow typically 2 to 10 times faster (Figure 2(b)), with a mean of 3.17 times greater than controls. In addition hard and soft corals that have
been collected naturally broken and badly damaged are observed to heal completely, release little or no mucus, and regain bright color and polyp extension within a day, while controls remain pale and continue to look injured
and release mucus for two weeks . Corals in electrical fields are observed to bud and branch more densely  . This is reminiscent of the well known role of DC electrical fields in healing ruptured cellular membranes and cuts in the skin of organisms: if the polarity is correct the cut rapidly heals and closes, while if it is reversed the cut opens up . Survival of hard corals -, soft corals , oysters -, and salt marsh grass  in electrical fields compared to un-electrified controls also show many times higher survival (Figure 2(c)), with a mean of 3.47 times higher than controls. This is especially the case in extreme stress conditions from excessively high temperatures, sedimentation, or eutrophication, when almost all the controls die, but most of the electrically charged organisms survive. For example in the severe 1998 Maldives bleaching event Biorock reefs had 16 to 50 times higher coral survival than surrounding reefs, and every single control coral transplanted onto cement structures died . In the 2010 Thailand bleaching events corals bleached less (in some cases not at all), recovered faster, and had much higher survival than the same species of corals on surrounding reefs . Similar results have been seen with oysters , salt marsh grass , and seagrass . Control oysters in New York City nearly all died over a severe winter, and the shells of the survivors shrank in size because they were etched and dissolved from acidity caused by increased CO2 solubility in cold water. In contrast Biorock oysters continued to
grow throughout the normally dormant period, and their shells were shiny with no signs of dissolution from acidity . This is in part because the Biorock electrolytic process generates net alkalinity, and so counteracts acidification . A comparison of 6 genera of corals grown on Biorock with genetically identical clones in the same habitat  showed that electrically stimulated corals had higher densities of the symbiotic alga Symbiodinium sp. (Figure 3(a)), even higher Symbiodinium cell division rates as measured by mitotic indices (Figure 3(b)), but had generally lower chlorophyll per Symbiodinium cell (Figure 3(c)). This is analogous to the lowered chlorophyll content of corals exposed to high light, which is interpreted as a mechanism to prevent excessive photosynthetic production and symbiotic alga growth -. The greatly increased growth rate of corals with electrical stimulation appears to occur despite less dependence on the symbiotic algae, and therefore is a direct effect of the electrical field itself.
All of these phenomena indicate that electrical fields in the right range greatly stimulate the health of marine organisms. These effects are not residual, they occur only when the electrical field is on (Figure 4(a)). These results are no surprise, since all forms of life from bacteria on up maintain a roughly tenth of a volt potential difference between the outside of the cell and the inside, and use electron and proton flow along this voltage gradient to make ATP and NADP, the fundamental energy and reducing currencies of all life. ATP production and protein synthesis are both directly stimulated by DC electrical currents over a very broad range spanning orders of magnitude , increasing with current to a maximum and then decreasing at excessive levels (Figure 4(b)). 2.2. Results from Improperly Designed Experiments This section discusses published results from projects that do not meet the criteria of proper training, materials, design, installation, and maintenance according to the inventors of the electrical stimulation method. All have failed to get the results achieved by those with proper training and materials, for several different reasons. As
there are several different causes for their failure to achieve prime results, these inappropriate projects are reviewed below by major categories of the flaws in their design or execution.
2.2.1. Mistake -1: Current Reversed
In these projects the power leads are connected backwards. Instead of the cathode being protected from corrosion, it rusts very rapidly instead, and the anode, instead of being clean, is instead heavily overgrown by rapid growth of soft minerals. Sometimes it takes months before they realize their mistake, and often the error was only recognized much too late when the author visited and pointed it out. These mistakes can easily be prevented by promptly sending photos for advice. In some cases reports based on this mistake have been published claiming that the method is a total failure. A report by the Texas A&M University Galveston Coastal Geology Laboratory was paid for the State of Texas General Lands Office (GLO), in order to see if electrical methods could protect steel with mineral coatings, as had been shown by Hilbertz in the 1970s. Texas A&M found instead that the charged structures rusted even faster than the controls! They never realized their mistake, nor apparently did Texas GLO.
2.2.2. Mistake 0: No Current
This can result from power supply failure or from cable breakage.
In some of these cases the project was properly designed and installed, but those running the project failed to realize that it was not under power and send photos to the author for confirmation and advice on how to fix it. Some of these continued making measurements for up to year not realizing that the project was not under power, and the mistake was only realized afterwards when they finally sent the first photographs to the author, who immediately recognized they were not receiving electrical current. That is why even trained groups are advised to send frequent photos for advice.
Other cases were by untrained imitators using incorrect design and materials. These failures were largely caused by power supplies burning out, electrical cables breaking, or bad contacts. Most such failures were caused by extreme storm events, such as hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones, and were not properly diagnosed or repaired. In other cases they resulted from deliberate destruction by people running boats over the cables, breaking cables by dragging anchors over cables, by people dumping anchors on top of projects accidentally or deliberately, or saboteurs who cut cables for bizarre reasons of their own, usually involving a personal grudge against a local partner rather than the project itself. Unfortunately several projects that received no current resulted in published theses and papers.
One example is a thesis project by Zaidy Khan at the University of the South Pacific, which found no difference in growth rates of corals on structures which were thought to be under power but which in fact were not, and control structures known to receive no power.
The same error occurred in a thesis project by Andrew Taylor of James Cook University, supervised by Bette Willis, who sought to compare coral growth on structures with and without power. Taylor did not build any electrified structures, he simply used one of our field sites without permission, which his thesis advisor did not seem to realize was fundamentally unethical. The structure he thought was under power was in fact not, due to a burned out power supply that had not been repaired or replaced. In addition Taylor’s control corals died from disease, but a poster was presented anyway at the International Coral Reef Symposium claiming that Biorock corals did not grow faster than controls.
Another experiment done by Bogor University at Pramuka Island in the Seribu Islands north of Jakarta was victim of deliberate turning off of the power. The local power supply was in a commercial restaurant that was paid for supplying power, but which in fact turned the power off except during short visits by students making measurements. The interpretation of several Master’s theses was compromised by failure to realize what had happened until later.
In several cases groups in places like Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, Japan, the United States, and other places, who falsely claim to be trained in Biorock methods have been making unauthorized projects that have been complete failures. Their pitiful results are an obvious failure to all visitors, and an embarrassment because the imitators then say the method doesn’t work, not that they aren’t trained to do it properly.
2.2.3. Mistake 1: Current Too Low
This mistake results from powering too large an area with too small a power source, or failure to recognize that cables are broken or inadequate. One example comes from Terlouw , who reports measurements made on a project in Ko Tao, Thailand that was partially installed, but whose installation was never completed to standards. As a result of inadequate and broken cables the project received only a little power in the first year. In the second year new cables were installed and a failed power supply replaced so the project received power, but in the third year the cables broke and or the power supply failed, so only a small trickle or no power reached the project. These conditions were identified by the author from photographs sent from the project, but were not recognized by Terlouw, who reported that corals on Biorock grew faster than control corals by a factor of 1.54 in Year One, by a factor of 5.04 in Year Two, and by a factor of 1.33 in Year Three. Terlouw, not recognizing the cause of the variations, suggested that benefits are mixed, but our interpretation is that the higher results in Year 2 are due to that being the only year with adequate power, while Year 1 and Year 3 were underpowered, resulting in lower rates.
A similar mistake was made with oysters by Piazza et al. . In this particular case the oysters thought to be getting electrical current were in fact getting almost none at all, because flawed experimental design concentrated the current onto fresh pieces of bare steel. Piazza et al. found that the oysters that they incorrectly thought to be under power grew only 1.15 times faster than controls.
2.2.4. Mistake 2: Current Too High
Over-charging has been known to cause negative effects from the very start, but most groups that set up experiments without proper training or materials use high power to get quick results. As shown in Figure 4(b) of this paper, excessive current causes negligible benefits, and if too high, causes negative effects, killing corals. Unfortunately most of those who get negative results due to overcharging do not realize their error, and many of them have published their results anyway. This mistake is the cause of the very poor results reported by Schuhmacher, Schillak, Van Treeck, Sabater, Yap, Eggeling, and their colleagues -. Since these authors did not realize their mistakes and published negative or minor results, it has been widely claimed that the method does not work, but in fact their poor results were entirely due to lack of proper training, experimental design, materials, etc. Such mistakes are even worse when done in a closed system tank. As a result of their overcharging the corals had only very small increases in growth rates, or they bleached and failed to grow entirely, or died.
2.2.5. Mistake 3: Ethical
Borrell et al.   reported that one coral species grows a bit faster with electricity but that another species had its growth reduced and inhibited by the electrical field  . In fact, the alleged reduction of one species’ growth was for a completely different reason: terminal phase male parrotfish established their breeding territories on the Biorock project, and marked them by biting off all the growing tips of that one species only, while ignoring them in the control site. The author of this paper personally set that project up, and documented the cause, but this was completely and knowingly ignored by the authors of the report, causing deceptive and false conclusions.
These results all point in the same direction: low-voltage trickle charges can greatly enhance the health of marine organisms. Voltage gradients in the right range appear to create the ideal biophysical conditions for the creation of biochemical energy, stimulating healing, growth, survival, and resistance to stress. The external field maintains the cell membrane gradient and greatly reduces the need for cells to spend a large part of their energy pumping electrons, protons, and ions to maintain the gradient, freeing this energy for metabolism, growth, and resisting environmental stress.
Unfortunately many people copying the Biorock method think they can do so without training. The results of improperly designed, installed, and maintained projects set up by people without training using improper materials always fail to replicate the results of projects by trained people using approved methods and materials, for several obvious reasons. These people inevitably blame the technology itself and not their lack of training. Almost every data point in these graphs represents populations of different species grown in the field under different electrical conditions, most of which are likely to be suboptimal. For example oyster growth rates next to a former toxic waste dump in New York City increased with current, up to 10 fold (NB, length increase only, the volume increase is a thousand fold), even though they were getting power less than a quarter of the time, and probably would have grown even faster with more power . Much more work is needed to find out the optimal conditions, which are likely to be subtly different for each species. It has not escaped our attention that because membrane electro-chemical gradient-driven energy production is universal among all cellular life, going back to the last common ancestor, the method will apply to all organisms, although the effects and best conditions will depend on the electrical conductivity of their medium.
Maintaining ecosystem services in the face of accelerating global climate change will require methods that increase growth, survival, and resistance to escalating stress. These results indicate that the Biorock process is unique in accelerating settlement, growth, healing, branching, survival, and resistance to environmental stress. This allows marine organisms to be kept alive under conditions that would otherwise kill them, and enables entire complex ecosystems to be restored in a short period of time in places where there is no natural recovery (Figure 1). The Biorock electrolysis method, by stimulating the natural energy production mechanism, is the only ecological restoration method known that can maintain and restore marine ecosystems under conditions of accelerating global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, sedimentation, and excessive nutrient inputs, especially under severe stress where all other methods fail. It is urgent that the method should be optimized and applied on a large scale as soon as possible, especially in coral reefs, the ecosystem most threatened by global warming  , and in extending oyster reefs and salt marshes seaward to reduce coastal damage caused by global sea level rise.
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Wind speeds and climate extremes are driven by atmosphere temperature and pressure differences, which are increasing due to global warming, because temperature differences between land and sea get greater with global warming.
Here is the latest global sea surface temperature and air temperature anomaly maps. The Arctic is exceptionally warm, and most of the North Atlantic is 2 degrees C or more above average, causing much more evaporation over the ocean that turns into snow in a northeaster, and dumps it on my sidewalk.
Also notice the hot water around Australia. The Great Barrier Reef will bleach for the third year in a row if this hot water does not go away very soon. The biggest patch of cool water, in the eastern equatorial Pacific, is the remains of a La Niña that failed to develop and is fast dissipating.
Not 2 degrees, not 1.5 degrees, not even 1 degree!
That’s why the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where I will speak tomorrow about large-scale regeneration of marine ecosystems to reverse global climate change, is a death sentence for coral reefs as it now stands, because governments have chosen to sacrifice coral reefs, despite the scientific evidence that they are the most climatically vulnerable ecosystem!
The documents below show that the UNFCCC was fatally flawed from its conception, and needs to be strengthened if it is not to prevent global warming-caused extinction of coral reefs and flood low lands where billions of people now live.
TECHNICAL BRIEFING FOB INTERGOVERNMENTAL NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE MEETINGS UNITED NATIONS. NEW YORK. MAY 7 1992
MEMORANDUM: CAN WE AVOID ECOSYSTEM DAMAGE FROM CLIMATE CHANGE?
TO: INC NEGOTIATORS
FROM: Dr. Thomas J. Goreau, President, GCRA
1. IPCC projections for future climate change are based on assumed sensitivities of temperature and sea level to carbon dioxide increase that are 1O times less, and 1250 times less respectively, than have actually taken place in the past. The last time global temperatures were 1-2 degrees C above today’s values, sea level was 5-8 meters higher, compared to the 0.1 to 0.3 meters projected by IPCC. These observed changes imply that current projections may seriously underestimate potential long-term rises in sea level and temperature.
2. Coral reefs around the world are bleaching from heat shock stress and corals are increasingly dying as episodes increase in frequency and intensity. Bleaching took place after “hot spots”, regions of ocean temperature 1 degree C above normal, hit reef areas during the hottest months. Mass bleaching was unknown before the 1980s. Reefs which have escaped hot spots by luck are certain to be damaged if they continue. Major components of tropical marine biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, and shore protection are at serious risk from global warming.
3. Halting global warming requires stabilization of C02 concentrations in the atmosphere, not just stabilizing emissions. This requires both reduced supply of C02 to the atmosphere from fossil fuels and increased removal of C02 by protecting remaining forests and reforesting currently degraded areas. Simultaneous supply and demand-side measures are needed. Rapid global increase in biomass is essential because this is the only practical measure which can significantly reduce C02 concentrations within decades. Even drastic emissions reductions require over a century to have major impacts on C02 levels. Reforestation and increased energy efficiency together can affordably stabilize C02, providing an interim measure until non C02-producing energy sources replace fossil fuels.
4. Forest protection is not a sectoral issue. Boreal forests are the most efficient carbon sinks because they hold on to carbon for the longest in wood and soil. Tropical forests are inefficient, they hold on to carbon for a short time before returning it to the atmosphere. However, increased tropical forest cover is also critical because it is the most important ecosystem for reducing the atmospheric lifetime of C02 and the total heat each additional molecule adds to the atmosphere. Global warming will make all forests less efficient carbon sinks. Oceans are an extremely inefficient sink, unless they are dangerously polluted.
5. The Convention at present Is Inadequate to protect coral reefs from climate change. It requires stronger commitments to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Global, long-term, wholistic thinking Is needed on all sides now before it is too late to save and restore reefs and forests.