Here are the BIG AUDACIOUS SOLUTIONS that we are testing at the BANUA, our first pilot-project. Scaled up these solutions will save tens of thousands of kilometres of coastal reefs and benefit thousands of people living in fishing communities inside the Coral Triangle and BEYOND.
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A reef is a ridge of material at or near the surface of the ocean. Reefs can occur naturally. Natural reefs are made of rocks or the skeletons of small animals called corals. Reefs can also be cultured—created by human beings. of material at or near the surface of the ocean. Reefs can occur naturally. Natural reefs are made of rocks or the skeletons of small animals called corals. Reefs can also be artificial—created by human beings.
People create cultured reefs for three reasons. The first is to protect the coastline. Reefs act as barriers between the coast and powerful ocean storms. In this way, reefs also protect coastlines from erosion. Reefs protect low-lying coral islands from typhoons and other factors that may lead to beach erosion.
The second reason people construct reefs is to promote sea life for recreation and aquaculture. A reef ecosystem is very diverse. Artificial reefs provide food to local coastal communities.
A third reason for building reefs is to create a wave pattern that promotes the sport of surfing. Surfers ride boards on top of waves. Engineers have experimented with reef shapes to improve surfing conditions. These reefs are usually located far offshore and have the benefit of creating a larger, safer swimming area near the coast. Before the pandemic, the Philippines Travel & Tourism sector’s contribution to GDP was 22.5% of the total economy (worth US$92.6 billion). Surfing has grown in popularity in the Philippines and surf resorts, tour packages, camps, and brands are entering the market.
5-year growth on reef
SELECTIVELY BRED CORAL REEFS
Reef-building corals cannot survive if the water keeps warming. Corals rely on algae living inside them to supply them with food. These algae, which create the brilliant colors of healthy coral, die if the water gets too hot. The loss of the algae leaves the coral with a bleached appearance and leads to starvation. The leading cause of coral bleaching is climate change.
The genetic enhancement of wild animals and plants for characteristics that benefit human populations has been practiced for thousands of years, resulting in impressive improvements in commercially valuable species. Despite these benefits, genetic manipulations are rarely considered for noncommercial purposes, such as conservation and restoration initiatives.
There’s a glimmer of good news. a new roadmap for coral conservation using the tools that have revolutionized our understanding of the human genome. With cutting-edge genetics, it’s now possible to predict which corals will bleach and which ones won’t. The effort is a fruitful symbiosis between population geneticists and coral biologists. Coral bleaching is caused by increased ocean temperatures. Marine heatwaves devastate reefs, causing coral polyps to eject the symbiotic algae that live within their tissues. But some corals can weather the heat, and hold onto their life-sustaining algae—a trait that turns out to be inheritable. By propagating branches from these survivors it is possible to selectively breed heat-tolerant corals, and use them to repopulate reefs.
Coral colony spawning
BIOROCK DOMES & CORAL TREES
Biorock technology is an innovative process originally invented in 1976 by the late architect Professor Wolf Hilbertz to produce natural building materials in the sea. Wolf called it Mineral Accretion Technology, Seacrete, or Seament.
Biorock technology can be powered by energy from the sun, winds, waves, and ocean currents, generated directly at the site. Ocean energy reduces global warming caused by oil, coal, and natural gas. Ocean wave and current energy could meet many times human energy needs, but are not being seriously developed, especially in poor coastal countries
The technology provides greater benefits, faster results and lower costs than any other alternative and turns barren dead and dying areas into pristine reefs. Other CULTURED REEF restoration methods work well only under perfect water quality conditions but all fail when water becomes too hot, muddy, or polluted. Corals cultivated on Biorock continue to thrive when others die and the reefs cost less than other methods and have a 1600% to 5000% times higher survival after severe bleaching than corals on nearby reefs.
The process uses electrically conductive materials like ordinary steel, the cheapest and most widely used construction material, to construct BIOROCK DOMES of any size or shape in the sea. First the rusty steel is unrusted as red rust quickly turns grey and black and is converted back to iron. Dome-like structures are constructed and moved into position in the ocean. An electric charge is applied to the dome-like structure. This charge causes a mineral, limestone, to build up (accrete) directly onto the surface of the metal dome. Coral trees are attached to the limestone and multiply.
GABION WALL LIVING BREAKWATERS
A breakwater is a permanent structure constructed at a coastal area to which help protect coastlines from impacts such as sea level rise and storm surges caused by typhoons. Breakwaters minimize beach erosion and reduce the intensity of wave action in inshore waters providing calm conditions for CULTURED REEFS to grow as well as safer harbours and moorings. Breakwaters may also be small structures, placed 30–90 metres offshore in relatively shallow water to protect a gently sloping beach from coastal erosion.
Gabions are often used to construct breakwaters they consist of individual wire cages filled with rocks and stacked on top of one another. The rocks are often mined unsustainably contributing to social erosion and degrading the environment. Biorock provides the ideal breakwater material because it grows stronger with age and repairs itself if damaged by heavy waves. They become more effective over time as surface area increases and corals, oysters, and mussels proliferate creating living breakwaters.
Biorock filled, Gabion structures in shallow water, sitting unattached on sand, unwelded and held together only with binding wire can withstand some of the strongest typhoons ever recorded with only minor damage because waves are able to pass through them, while massive structures are overturned or ripped apart. They can be powered by wave energy generators that produce the most energy and fastest growth precisely when wave erosion is highest. The structures are designed and engineered in a site-specific way to withstand maximum wave energies. They are faster and cheaper to build than concrete or rock structures of the same size.
The breakwaters are designed and constructed under completely different physical principles than conventional breakwaters, using refraction instead of reflection. Waves passing through the Gabion reach the shore with less energy, so they deposit sand on beaches instead of eroding them. They avoid erosion caused by solid breakwaters, which washes away all the sand in front, and then underneath them, accelerating undermining, cracking, settlement, and collapse. Rock and concrete module breakwaters are often ‘armored over’ and cemented together with limestone, forming massive units that prevent rocks and concrete modules moving apart in heavy storms, and have to be reset with cranes at great cost.
The Conservancy is partnering with concrete manufacturers in the Philippines to manufacture BIOROCK commercially both as a source of material for breakwaters and as an alternative construction material to Portland cement.
BIOROCK technology produces concrete that is: around three times stronger than concrete made from ordinary Portland cement; the only construction material that gets stronger and harder with age and is self-repairing, if the mineral layer is broken, the damaged area can be repaired on-site using mineral accretion technology and grows back. All other construction materials deteriorate with age and eventually need to be removed and replaced.
REEPH ROCK is a process where cement is manufactured from salt water under specific conditions. REEPH ROCK is harder than Portland Cement, self-repairing and saves money by never needing replacement. Portland cement manufacture produces about 5-10% as much CO2 as fossil fuel combustion, Reeph Rock actually absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere as it sets.
REEPH ROCK has endless structural uses particularly in marine construction. It is particularly applicable in the tropical maritime climate of the Philippines where the combination of heavy rain, extreme heat and a salty onshore airstream rapidly degrades reinforced concrete structures, destroying the outer concrete layer and attacking the steel bars that reinforce the concrete.
REEPH ROCK has endless structural uses
Destructive fishing methods, such as cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing (‘fish bombing’), are still widely practiced globally. Cyanide stuns fish without killing them, leaving them unable to move and easy to catch in a net or even by hand. Eating fish killed by cyanide harms health. As a result, fish populations on the CULTURED REEFS and the communities whose livelihoods and health depend on reef fish are negatively impacted.
Bombing destroys over 200 square feet of coral reef at a time, which leaves behind empty craters devoid of life. The practice devastates reefs and kills animals that live around them. 10 years of reef restoration efforts can be destroyed in a minute!
The Philippines Government has outlawed dynamite fishing to support the extensive legal measures taken by it to ensure the sustainable management of the Nation’s fisheries resources.
Sensors placed in the sea around reefs raise the alarm to local fish bombing. The Conservancy’s BANUA, REEF EGG and EMANTA and FishPals app all employ sensors and their fleet of HYBRID BANCAS can move in quickly to enforce protection.
Fishbomb wave detection
AmBisyon Natin 2040 (literally “Our Ambition 2040”) is the 25-year long term vision developed by the Philippine Government as a guide for development planning. It represents the collective long-term vision and aspirations of the Filipino people for themselves and for the country. It describes the kind of life that people want to live, and how the country will become “a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society by 2040.*
Capacity building is a systematic approach to knowledge and skills development a key tenet of AmBisyon Natin 2040. Cumulatively our EDUCATION goals support the nation’s ambition. We currently have a ratio of 80% local community involvement and 20% domestic and international involvement, with advanced skills and knowledge. Our goal is have 100% local community management.
*Source: Philippines National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)
Our Ambition 2040
The United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs has developed 17 goals for Sustainable Development. Many of these goals match both AmBisyon Natin 2040 and the solutions being developed and implemented in the Conservancy’s pilot program at the BANUA to support COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION, LIVELIHOOD TRAINING and SOCIAL ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT.
In addition, Scott Countryman, our Founder has been appointed as the Cultured Coral Reef Expert to develop regenerative business models that support the US$9 billion Asian Development Bank’s Ocean’s Health Fund. He is a member of the Marine Aquaculture, Reefs, Renewable Energy, and Ecotourism for Ecosystem Services (MARES) consulting team whose work influences the wider Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies.
Scott authors research papers and holds webinars about CULTURED REEFS and BIOROCK DOMES to build marine habitats and coastal storm defence and GABION WALL LIVING BREAKWATERS. He contributes to the MARES public data room and Asian Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) on issues related to the use of renewable energy and cultured corals to regenerate marine ecosystems.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION
Community Engagement is key component to tackling illegal and destructive fishing, and transitioning to a regulated and sustainable fishery. Engaging with fishing communities encourages empowerment for positive change. Our focus is on eliminating illegal and destructive fishing practices and advocating for a sustainably managed and regulated fishery for the Philippines. Improving Philippines fisheries ultimately needs to start at the local fishery level, which requires communities to be aware of the detrimental impacts of overfishing and destructive fishing on their livelihood.
Our Floating school program works with local schools to foster an early appreciation for the marine environment and promote the message of marine conservation. In turn this helps create a link between the Conservancy and the broader communities through the children. Creating environmental appreciation in children is the key to ensure the protection and conservation of natural habitats and marine ecosystems.
A Sustainable Livelihood Program, or SLP, is a community-based program which provides income-generating activities to low-income households. A SLP seeks to curb and ultimately reduce poverty by giving jobs and training to people, as well as by moving highly low-income households into a viable means of support.
Fishing communities are some of the poorest in the Philippines. During construction Banua employed 12 staff and post construction the camped employs 5 staff. If we add six marine protected areas to our network over 100 people will be given jobs and training.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT
A social enterprise is a business whose primary objective is to serve a purpose that has a positive social impact. It seeks to earn profits to be sustainable and give benefits to the identified sector of society and environment, as opposed to the normal corporate objective of maximizing profit for shareholder/owner’s benefit. Social enterprises addresses social issues and contribute to improve society.
A 2019 study by the Asian Development Bank identified 164,473 social enterprises in the Philippines. 17% of the total registered businesses in the country. 71% of the social enterprises are micro, small, and medium-sized businesses.
Visitors to the BANUA want to buy products that remind them of their visit, which is why we are developing a range of BANUA-branded affordable, natural, eco-friendly and ethically-made products from ingredients that are naturally available in The Philippines: coconut, aloe, elemi, jute, sugarcane and looking for ways to recycle the plastic and fishing waste that washes up on the shore.
Reef regeneration programs succeed when there is sufficient post-installation care. Our solution begins with educating children and adults in the communities about the critical role the reef has in their food security and the potential upside in generating income from restoring reefs.
We educate them on low-technology techniques that enable them to become ‘coral gardeners’. The only qualifications for a successful coral gardener are a responsible attitude; moderate swimming ability and a loud voice! Gardening involves untangling plastic from branching corals; eradicating coral predators like the Crown-of-thorns starfish and Drupella Snails, and, within hours of a storm, flipping corals back aligned them upwards with the sunlight. They also manage and generate a personal income from the COMMUNITY CORAL NURSERY.
A loud voice is needed because the caretaker is a “Bantay Dagat” (Filipino for “Sea Patrol”) who scares away visiting fisherman; prevents the community from fishing inside No-Take areas; discourages destructive anchoring practices by ensuring sufficient boat moorings are located away from the reef, and encourages neighbours not to hurl garbage into the ocean. The best gardeners are 40+ ladies with loud voices!
A reef caretaker
COMMUNITY CORAL NURSERY
In addition to PARTICIPATIVE TOURISTS we welcome domestic and international leisure travellers who put BANUA on their itinerary and spread the word when they return home. Many visitors, especially those with children, like to include a reef diving ‘experience’ in their visit. However, there is an inherent conflict between tourism and reef restoration: tourists are literally ‘loving reefs to death’.
Our 100 sqm Nursery is an edutainment ‘petting zoo’. Underwater signs describe the corals and marine species an there are Instagram-able features like giant clams and ‘shipwrecks’. The only prohibition to a fun, engaging, experience is we do not permit fish feeding. The Nursery is managed by the REEF Caretakers who charge an entrance fee and offer guided tours.
I LOVE REEFS
Have you ever dreamed of travelling the world to discover the different peoples and cultures who live on our planet? Participative tourism is the answer for those travellers who value sharing and discovery first and foremost.
This form of tourism, which is the total opposite of mass tourism, provides unprecedented, authentic and friendly experiences that travellers will long cherish as unforgettable. It is a much-sought-after and ideal alternative for those looking to engage in low-impact small scale environmental tourism There are so many rich and diverse activities that can turn a trip into an acquisition of new skills and moments of sharing with local communities.
Since it’s inception the Conservancy has welcomed over 100 domestic and international travellers who have undertaken work that responded to the needs of the BANUA. Work has included teaching lessons at our floating school; designing our HQ and accommodation facilities; testing plastic recycling equipment and beach cleanups… we even had an adventure surfing team who came to find the ‘prefect wave and shot ‘NO MAD’ a much awarded video that was shot at the Banua and is now screening on Netflix.
BANUA MARINE MONITORING STATION
The Conservancy is building BANUA, a marine monitoring station on an island in Palawan, Philippines, in partnership with the Tagbanua, a tribal community that live on the island. We identified the ocean around the island as an area of high biodiversity that met the NEOLI success factors for an LMMA.
We wrote a plan for fisheries management resulting in the decision by the Tagbanua to establish an LMMA and partner with us to develop a proof-of-concept incubator that offers a sustainable solution for their community and can be scaled up and applied across the Coral triangle.
Commenced in 2017, upon completion, BANUA will comprise a CULTURED CORAL REEF, COMMUNITY CORAL NURSERY; 200 sqm HQ, a typhoon-proof building housing administrative offices, a science laboratory and spaces for training and equipment storage; visitor accommodation, eight native-style 50 sqm villas for up to 20 visitors featuring a studio bedroom, outdoor shower and instagram-perfect views of the ocean; staff accommodation; a fleet of HYBRID BANCAS and a scuba diving facility.
Our next step will be to SCALE UP OUR NETWORK by adding six more LMMA’s to our network with a total capacity of 80 visitors. Each LMMA will have a similar infrastructure to the BANUA but offer visitors a different experience from mangroves to bird spotting. Visitors can go LMMA- hopping and stay at each new area. The network will offer LIVELIHOOD TRAINING opportunities for 100 local staff and SOCIAL ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT for many more.
The BANUA supports our FISH BOMBING, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION, PARTICIPATIVE TOURISM and TACKLING ILLEGAL FISHING programs.
Banua Marine Monitoring Station
A portable, self-contained Marine Lab, Command and Control Center, Community outreach HQ, and staff accommodation. Housed in a converted 70 meter shipping container it can run off-grid on solar energy.
The hardware in the REEF EGG is typhoon-resistant, on or off-grid compatible, and equipped with VHF marine radio, 3G mobile voice and data capabilities, software enhanced radar, blast fishing logging devices, coral reef mapping technology, PTZ internet cameras, and other counter-IUU-F technologies will demonstrate how these new technologies – in the hands of competent operators – can end IUU-F and let responsible local communities take ownership of their marine environment. Fully equipped the REEF EGG can undertake the following activities:
ENFORCEMENT: provide law enforcement and fisheries management partners with the tools to detect and deter illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing (IUU-F) and other threats to the local marine environment. The REEF EGG is equipped to observe Coastal fishing vessel activity within municipal waters us to 25km from the coast.
MONITORING: Environmental monitoring: continuous fishery and habitat assessment to determine the impacts of human activity and climate change. Biological monitoring: fish landing surveys; baited video (BRUV’s); modified reef check; aerial and underwater mapping of seagrass and mangrove habitats; detailed manta and video; camera tow database. Physical monitoring: tracking sources of industrial, household, and agricultural pollution. Water quality: ph, temperature; nutrients; turbidity and metals; Sedimentation: Sediment traps and pavers.
The REEF EGG supports our FISH BOMBING, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION, and TACKLING ILLEGAL FISHING programs.
Boats connect islands, spread culture, and allow people to harvest the sea’s bounty. A boat for a fishermen, is a ‘beast of burden’, a source of income for fishing and tourism and a ride home. The traditional indigenous double outrigger crafts, called banca boats, of the Philippines vary in size from the very small 4 meter single crew paddle boats to large 50 meter fishing vessels and passenger ferry boats.
The Conservancy has built a fleet of hybrid bancas. Traditionally bancas are fuelled by gas or diesel engines, our focus is on solar+ battery conversion projects supported at charging stations in key locations e.g. using excess solar-energy generated by eco-tourism operators.
The design of the vessels also has an impact on performance and fuel consumption. Traditionally, regardless of size, the same construction techniques are used by native boat builders. Many hull forms, particularly economically important fishing boats, have been scaled up, resulting in problems related to the availability of wood for construction, safety at sea, and performance. We have developed a twin-hull ‘catamaran’ style banca that yields 2x+ better efficiencies. Wood is the main building material, wooden boats last at most for three years. Bancas that are made with fibreglass are faster, cheaper, and easier to make. Fibreglass boats prevent leaks and reduce maintenance. A fibreglass boat can last 20 years.
We have built: the ‘Chumba’: a 6.8 meter twin-hull solar catamaran style banca with a solar-assisted range of 18 nautical miles, the ‘Mama Gina’ a 10 meter single-hull banca with a solar-assisted range of 38 nautical miles; the ‘Bambooyaka’ an 8.5 meter, trimaran-platform, this slow ‘workboat’ is for transporting BIOROCK DOMES from our nursery to growing areas. The vessel has an acrylic bottom for ‘glass bottom boat’ viewing; the ‘Emanta’ is a 58 meter twin hulled solar catamaran, with a solar-assisted range of 58 nautical miles and a motor-assisted range of 128 Motor nautical miles. Emanta serves a similar purpose to the REEF EGG and operates as an ocean going, self-contained HQ for the Conservancy.
Our learning from boatbuilding is transferrable to local communities through COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION and supports LIVELIHOOD TRAINING and SOCIAL ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT.
Fishing is an essential source of income and food for the people that live in the Coral Triangle. 70% of the Philippines’ fish stocks are considered overfished, resulting in the critical decline of fisheries production. Fisheries provide livelihood to about one million Filipinos, or about 5% of the country’s labor force. Fish consumption in the Philippines is also high at 28.5 kilograms per capita yearly. Fish comprise about half of Filipinos’ protein diet.
FishPals is mobile app that supports our COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION programs and tackles illegal and destructive fishing. It enables the transition to a regulated and sustainable fishery by meeting the needs of fishermen, scientists, and enforcement efforts. It is low cost to deploy and manage.The app has three features:
FishPals Market: an on-demand, virtual fish market that helps fisherman sell their produce by connecting them directly with buyers and cutting out the middlemen so the fisherman make more money out of their catch.
FishPals Water-taxi: a GrabTaxi style ‘water taxi’ booking service that matches the nearest boat captain to customers in real-time. A SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOOD alternative income source that makes more money than fishing and reduces pressure on the reef because they are not fishing. The service benefits tourism operators who require a reliable water-taxi service.
FishPals Bounty: is an incentive-driven, anti-poaching reporting function that enables regulation and monitoring of coastal fisheries. Legislation permits coastal fishing by small boats using non-destructive fishing gear within a 15km zone from the shore and prohibits large-scale commercial fishing in the zone. The app enables coastal fisherman to report violators by taking gps tagged photos that can be used as evidence in enforcement and prosecutions. The data can also be used by scientists to use heat-mapping to track where fish are being caught, monitor catch sizes and know which fisheries are recovering.
TACKLING ILLEGAL FISHING
Illegal commercial fishing is threatening the food supply of coastal communities as fish populations decline due to overfishing in areas fishers are not permitted to access. Illegal fishing is a key driver of global overfishing, it threatens marine ecosystems, puts food security and regional stability at risk, and is linked to major human rights violations and even organized crime. Given its generally concealed nature, it is difficult to quantify, but the current estimates suggest the global losses of illegal fishing cost up to $36.4 billion each year, 5 trillion pesos to The Philippines alone.
Every year millions of pounds of non-target fish species are caught in by illegal commercial fishers, and then discarded back into the sea. Whales, dolphins, sharks, seabirds and marine turtles are often accidentally caught and suffer as well. In the Coral Triangle, the impacts of such bycatch are devastating, particularly to endangered marine turtles and sharks, and juvenile fish.
Illegal fishers work at night in countries with large areas of ocean territory to patrol and few resources with which to do so, which is why the Philippines is a popular target — but not any longer. We are supporting government enforcement initiatives using to expose illegal fishing using a U.S. government satellite sensor called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). This satellite sensor’s images are key because the sensor can detect illegal fishing in prohibited areas that ordinarily takes place at night in isolated places by “seeing” artificial light sources or “super lights” that are used by fishing boats fishing to attract fish in the dark.
The Conservancy’s BANUA, REEF EGG and EMANTA and FishPals app all use VIIRS technology. Sharing the images on the app (or Facebook daily) helps “monitor” nighttime fishing activity and enable enforcement against illegal fishers that supports the extensive legal measures steps taken by the Philippines Government to ensure the sustainable management of the Nation’s fisheries resources. Information also feeds into a Global Fishing Watch database that tracks large fishing fleets.
Tackling illegal fishing
ARTIFICIAL REEFS made from BIOROCK DOMES work in shallow waters but are difficult to position in deeper waters with shelving rocky cliffs. Biorock floats in water which is why we are experimenting with a Biorock reef suspended by a long chain anchored to the seabed by divers. The reef can be equipped with ocean-powered LED lights and reef sounds to attract more coral polyps to actively navigate and settle on the reef. Large scale suspended reefs will enable gigaton scale carbon capture from energy powered cold spring suspended reefs.
Suspended Biorock structures shaped as life-size marine animals: mantas, whale sharks, turtles, and dolphins located in a COMMUNITY CORAL NURSERY enable snorkelers to be ‘edutained’ by getting a sense of how large these animals are and offer underwater Instagram-moments because the structures are covered with corals and surrounded by dense schools of fish. Suspended domes can be towed to any location and placed in eco-resorts allowing real and virtual ownership by eco-tourists.
Gigaton scale carbon capture
The future looks grim for coral reefs and we have to plan ahead for a worst case scenario in which reefs disappear from the planet in 35 years calling for life support measures.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway is a secure backup facility for the world’s crop diversity it stores duplicates of seeds conserved in genebanks around the world. This provides security of the world’s food supply against the loss of seeds in genebanks due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts, war, sabotage, disease and natural disasters.
Ocean water is made up of layers, determined by temperature. A thermocline is the transition layer between warmer mixed water at the ocean’s surface and cooler deep water below. Scientists are working on redefining the thermocline to create ‘Seed Vaults for the ocean’. These involve designing re-engineered ocean environments that replicate the ocean layers in closed lagoons of atolls to preserve coral reef DNA post 2050.