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Apr 262008
 

By John DeFore

While enterprising Americans are busy submerging decaying urban artifacts to create new fish habitats, one entrepreneur is traveling the world using man-made objects to help habitats grow back in something closer to nature’s own design.eco-reefs.jpg

Biologist and avid diver Michael Moore (no, not the filmmaker), concerned about the disappearance of coral reefs, has designed a kit of easily assembled parts that mimics the real thing in such a way as to encourage regrowth. Emphasizing the preservation of tourist economies — a thriving reef means exotic fish, which means scuba tourists with money to spend — as much as a selfless environmental agenda, he has put installations in small coastal villages in places like Indonesia and the Philippines.

While damaged reefs can take 50 to 100 years to grow back on their own, the company claims (and experience with their earliest installations backs this up) it can shorten that period to between 7 and 15 years. That’s because the snowflake-like modules, made of unglazed ceramic (“identical to that which is commonly used in the production of coffee cups, dinnerware, or bathroom tile,” the product info says) are installed in patterns resembling natural growth, and small tips of coral can be attached directly to them, benefitting from the EcoReef’s protection against strong currents. All the while, fish can make their homes among the prongs and other life can flourish.

“Over time,” the company says, “the installation will degrade and disappear into the reef sediments, allowing the biological reef to completely replace the artificial reef.”

While it’s true that buying a freshly manufactured EcoReef installation sounds less conservation-minded than reusing old tires, ships, or construction debris, Moore has an arsenal of reasons why the latter isn’t appropriate for rehabilitating coral reefs: those materials do little to help coral grow; some can be chemically reactive in a way that harms the ecosystem. Objects like subway cars provide huge “voids” that encourage fish congregation, inviting overfishing.

And, well, they’re eyesores — not the kind of thing to encourage when you’re hoping to build a first-class dive resort and save the seas simultaneously.

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