Scientists Are Trying To Regrow The Great Barrier Reef With Electricity

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An environmental group is looking into a novel way to repair the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia – they want to use electricity to accelerate coral growth.

Called Reef Ecologic, the group is conducting a trial to see if the technique works, reported New Scientist. It involves using steel frames and passing electricity through them to stimulate growth.

This idea has been around for quite a while, with projects in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and South-East Asia using electrical stimulation in this way. This latest effort will use the same method in an attempt to boost the health of the GBR.

“A low-voltage direct current is run through the steel,” BBC Future explained back in 2015. “This electricity interacts with the minerals in the seawater and causes solid limestone to grow on the structure. It draws on the principles of electrolysis, where the electric current causes a chemical reaction to occur which wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Reef Ecologic's trial is now underway at a section of the GBR 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Cairns. This region was “badly affected by the 2016 and 2017 mass coral bleaching events,” New Scientist noted. It would take a decade for the coral to grow back naturally, but these "biorocks" (as they're called) could speed up the process.

A study in 2016 found that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef had been affected by bleaching as a result of a mass coral bleaching event. Due to climate change, events like these could occur at least every five years.

Coral bleaching is typically caused by warmer water temperatures and, as the name suggests, it turns the coral white as algae in their tissues are expelled. This doesn’t kill the coral, but it makes them much more vulnerable. The US lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005 due to a large bleaching event.

The currents involved in biorock technology are not harmful to humans or any marine organisms. But while the technique has been proven to be successful, running low-voltage cables from the shore to reefs is not always easy – although solar and tidal energy has made this more feasible.

However, there’s little research available on how effective it is. Signs so far are encouraging, though, and with climate change not going anywhere, there’s surely no harm in trying various techniques for saving the environment.

(H/T: New Scientist)

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