As is well-known to pretty much everyone by now, the reefs of this planet are dying en masse thanks to man-made climate change. While most of the planet scrambles to do something about that overarching problem, some are also trying to bolster the reefs by creating a few artificial ones.
It’s a relatively simple process. Got an old airplane or ship you don’t need anymore? Set some explosives off, sink it, and allow nature to take its course and form a reef around it. This is happening with increasing frequency and imagination, and a new one with an interesting twist is about to grace the Mediterranean Sea.
This time, instead of merely creating a wreck that coral will begin to form around, a team of researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) will use artificial algae to kick start proceedings.
Composed of rubber, they physical resemble red coralline algae, the type armed with rigid calcareous cell walls that are often an important food source for sea urchins, mollusks, and fish that live around reefs. It’s this calcareous “shell” that ends up forming a large part of the reef structures.
Found throughout all of the world’s oceans, their lineage dates back to the Early Cretaceous, before even the mighty T. rex sauntered onto the scene. This means that for tens of millions of years, they have been a vital reef-builder – so why aren’t the team just cultivating and using the real deal for their new reef?
Sadly, the current rate of ocean warming and acidification is proving too much for the little critters, and plenty of them are finding that their calcareous structures are dissolving away into nothingness. That’s why these rubber synthetics are being used – they’re made of a silicon elastomer, a very stretchy material, anchored in clear resin, which together will resist the increasingly acidic waters of the Mediterranean.
These non-toxic artificial algae were used to create a proverbial launch pad for a new reef close to the preexisting ones in the Gulf of La Spezia just off the coast of northwest Italy. Their proximity to the real thing will hopefully encourage life to colonize them before long.
Already, after just 30 days, sheets of bacterial communities known as biofilms are already encroaching on the newly formed reef territory. The appearance of biofilms often signal the beginning of complex submarine ecosystems – they are verifications that the environment is, at its most basic, habitable.
Only time will tell if the project will be successful, but if it is, scientists may be able to mitigate the worldwide destruction of reefs more effectively than ever before.
[H/T: New Scientist]