Marine researcher Deborah Brosnan remembers that on her diving trips to a bay near the Caribbean island of Saint Barthelemy, she “felt like a visitor to a fantastic party”, where she swam over coral reefs with nurse sharks, sea turtles and countless colorful fish.
But on a return trip after Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017, she dove the reef again – and was shocked by what she saw.
“Everything was dead,” she recalled in an interview with Reuters. “There were no sharks, no sea turtles, no seaweed, no living corals. I felt like I had lost my friends. “
Recent research has shown that warmer atmospheric temperatures and sea level rise contribute to more frequent, destructive tropical storms.
Brosnan’s experience helped create a reef restoration technology development mission. The project will include 2.6 acres of dead reef off the coast of the Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda.
The project, known as Ocean-Shot, was announced on Thursday at the Global Citizen’s Forum. The technology, funded by US entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products, mimics the design and shape of natural reefs to provide opportunities for colonization by coral and other marine life.
The reef modules built will also help protect the nearby coastal community from storm surges and sea level rise, project officials said.
Brosnan, whose Washington-based company is leading the effort, said scientists will test new technologies aimed at accelerating coral growth, which of course takes up to a decade to restore 1 acre. A nearby school of corals will also breed several species that will eventually help populate the reef substitute.
Ocean-Shot starts at a crucial point in time. Scientists estimate that up to half of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and the rest are endangered.
From the Caribbean to the western Pacific, the effects of climate change have resulted in coral bleaching, a worrying surge in ocean acidification and relentless hurricanes that have devastated the world’s reefs, Brosnan said.
It was also a challenge to raise awareness of the plight of the coral reefs.
“Many people don’t fully appreciate the state of the ocean because they can’t see it,” said Brosnan.
Coral reefs support more than 25 percent of marine biodiversity, including the turtles, fish, and lobsters that power the global fishing industry. The reef is like an apartment building, Brosnan said, with different species living on each floor from the basement to the penthouse.
The coral reefs act as a protective barrier for coastal communities against wave movement and allow people to build homes and businesses closer to the ocean.
Coral reefs soften the flow of sand to the beaches and replenish the glistening white beaches that make the Caribbean a global tourist hotspot. The sand itself is owed to coral and a very important local species that feed on it.
“The white sand beach on a tropical island is actually parrotfish poop,” Brosnan said.
If the world’s remaining reefs continue to die, Brosnan predicts a significant financial impact on the fisheries and tourism that island nations rely on, which could spur migration to more developed countries.
“There is a real concern about where to live when the coral reef disappears, how to make a living when the fishing is gone and where to move now,” she said.
After the project is implemented in Antigua and Barbuda, officials hope to replicate Ocean-Shot elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America, Brosnan said, adding that there could be scope to take it to other regions.