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The Great Barrier Reef May Be Restored Using Electricity

On the minds of many has been the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, the large coral reef system which has been directly impacted by climate change. Although efforts have been underway to protect and preserve other reef systems, for instance in Belize, the Great Barrier Reef seems to have been continuing to dwindle, decreasing in size and vibrancy as the years pass.

Now, however, one environmental group is developing a coral reef management system it hopes will provide relief in restoring the ecological balance provided by the Reef. Specifically, they are aimed at reversing the impact of coral bleaching, a process by which coral release their algae reserves in warm water.

Australia-based Reef Ecologic is behind the massive project involving steel frames that emit small doses of low voltage electricity. The electricity, in turn, promotes limestone growth on the reef structure as a result of interacting with natural minerals found in the seawater.

The reefs will be fitted with electrified steel frames which will do the job of both (1) stimulating coral growth and (2) protecting the reef from any future coral bleaching events.

The incidences of the bleaching events have increased dramatically over the years, with mass bleaching occurring when water temperatures of the summer maxima exceed 1.2° C for an extended period of time.

The massive scale of the coral recover job

Although reefs have a self-healing mechanism that allows them to regrow coral, the process is a slow one, at a rate of only 0.3-2 centimeters for reefs of this size, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And when one considers that the reef spans 2,300 km and covers an area of 344,468km2, it becomes clear that the size of the job can seem daunting.

The regrowth period, without assistance, can take at least a decade, even with the most optimistic of forecasts. Helen McGregor, climate change researcher and geologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia said of the cyclical nature of the Great Barrier Reef: "Our research tells us that the reef develops in response to major changes in climate and the environment, but there are limits," she said, adding, "Exceed the limits and the reef doesn't survive. The reef can regenerate if conditions improve, but there's a catch — the reef takes time to come back."

The trend of electrifying coral reefs has been gaining momentum

Similar efforts to restore smaller reef structures have been wildly successful, for instance, those used with the Pemuteran Bay coral reefs located in Bali, Indonesia. Biorock designed various structures to do the same job, with each having a special structure and appearance that mimicked some form of marine life: pyramids, dolphins, lizards, sharks, turtles and even manta rays.

Delphine Robbe, founder of the Gili Eco Trust, an initiative that brought the technology to the Gili Islands in Indonesia, explained the enormous impact of the project and also its link to developing and enhancing tidal energy: “Tidal power has great potential for future power and electricity generation especially in Indonesia which would be able to use its main wealth, the ocean."

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