Alex Goad on the MARS route to coral reef restoration

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The following is a transcript of the podcast: Episode 121: Industrial designer and Reef Design Lab founder Alex Goad talks about the amazing things you can do with coral reef restoration technology

Coral reefs around the world are subject to environmental pressures and human actions, causing almost irreparable damage to the underwater landscape.

Factors such as ocean acidification, polluted river runoff, destructive fishing practices, and coral bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures have wreaked havoc on the coral ecosystem.

Industrial designer and founder of Reef Design Lab, Alex Goad explains how his Modular Artificial Reef Structure, or MARS for short, can provide a simple, economical and sustainable solution for underwater coral farming and marine restoration.

Coral farming has a long history, with conventional practices using underwater structures such as coral trees, biorock structures, steel tables, PVC pipes and concrete blocks to grow corals. fragmented. Looking for a way to create more permanent structures in an easier way,

Goad developed MARS as a 3D-printed ceramic LEGO-like structure designed to reconstruct the substrate for coral restoration. Combining digital fabrication technologies with traditional techniques, Goad’s modular artificial reef structure can help repair damage to the marine environment by providing the substrate on which various colonizing species can thrive while creating habitats for different sea ​​life.

MARS is specifically designed for coral reef environments and especially for coral farming projects, but takes a very small, targeted restoration approach, Goad says.

“It can be made locally, deployed using small boats and literally built like one big underwater LEGO system. The system is essentially a lattice structure, which acts as a substrate for the coral to be transplanted onto and creates a protective space for various reef species.

One of the first deployments of MARS was on Summer Island, Maldives, in 2018, on an existing coral farm. During a recent visit to the island, Goad discovered that many healthy corals had been transplanted into the system as well as natural recruits, with several different species also using the system.

Although MARS is still not a truly cost-effective solution, he thinks the success of the Maldives project holds promise for the future as restoration efforts intensify. However, the Maldives project has led to research collaborations with various groups, including the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Melbourne, on the use of digital fabrication techniques for marine restoration.

Emphasizing the need for targeted, fabricated approaches to building artificial reefs, Goad says systems can be optimized for various species to achieve greater colonization.

While MARS was originally developed for coral farming, there are clear uses for wave attenuation as well as application in coastal protection in areas such as the Maldives which experience high erosion. due to climate change.

Goad also collaborated with UTS’s Dr David Booth to create an artificial reef structure positioned in the water right next to the Sydney Opera House. A key objective of this project was to create very simple economic structures to develop habitat for fish.

Extrapolating to his work and its application in the built environment, he cites the example of Sydney Harbor where a substantial portion of the natural rocky shoreline has been removed to build seawalls and construct various types of structures. Working with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science on the Living Seawalls project, Goad’s studio has designed different structures that can be attached to seawalls and built forms to help bring back many of these lost habitats.

“We are really starting to do research and look at how we could build in the future in a more ecologically inclusive way. So the research is really looking at how we can develop a blueprint for how to build in the future if we are to build in the marine environment,” he explained.

“The Sydney Opera House is an excellent example of a structure that was built a long time ago; there wasn’t really any real thought in what we were building there.

But that’s part of the conversation – if we’re building in these environments, we need to start thinking about building for more than humans; we need to start thinking about everything that lives in these areas.

So can these technologies be applied to architectural design and the built environment? Goad advocates for the optimization of these systems to create bioprotection for infrastructure. “If we can design seawalls and other marine structures to become an ideal habitat for encrusting organisms, we can actually create structures that are stronger and less susceptible to damage during storms and increasing weather events. more aggressive,” he observed.

Commenting on their coral restoration work, Goad says they have mainly worked in areas already heavily damaged by development projects. Adding a note of caution, he says their approach should not be used in greenwashing or as a mitigation technique for destructive coral reef developments.

Catch Alex Goad and Dr Danièle Hromek in conversation at BUILD: Life Under Water at the Sydney Opera House on Thursday 1 September 2022.

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