The artificial reef project (headed up by our Director of Diving Operations and Health & Safety, Kyle) was started in May 2015 as part of our Marine Conservation volunteer program. The team initially deployed a set of seven artificial structures to seed a new reef habitat in the main channel directly out from the station beach. The structures are made locally from a small block of cement and bent Rio bars (steel construction rods) to form a pyramid type structure.
During the initial deployment, the volunteer team checked the structures every second day to remove algal growth and allow sponges and coral to establish. Progress was slow and the team eventually abandoned the cleaning and allowed nature to run its course. With the substantial depth difference between high and low tides, silt often settles on the reef making it difficult for hard corals to grow, however, sponges and soft corals will thrive in these conditions.
Once the team stopped the cleaning, colonization of the artificial reef structures began. Shrimp came to feed on the algae, then lion fish moved in, macro algae started to grow and now, finally, we have sponges, small soft coral polyps and a variety of resident fish who enjoy their evolving habitat.
For Kyle, the idea for the artificial reef came from a fellow diver who had been working on local, sustainably farmed corals to sell to the aquarium industry. It’s painstaking work with cleaning required every second day to ensure optimal growth.
Our reef will boost the available habitat for marine species in the area so that we can take a more natural, less labour intensive approach, although the reef is consistently monitored. Recently, one of the largest sponge growths was knocked off its hold. Diligent monitoring brought it to the team’s attention quickly so that they could re-attach it, thereby helping the reef establish itself more quickly.
The next major expansion is to build an underwater steel dome large enough to attract cave dwelling species. This will be located further out on the sand bed where the water is even clearer. Ideally, it will provide a new habitat for marine life that can also be accessed by our team.
To find out more about the coral that grows here, take a look at another blog post about the artificial reef structure our volunteer team has been working.