Vabbinfaru Lotus Reef Restoration
Project Launched Successfully
Banyan Tree Maldives Vabbinfaru
Under the supervision of architect Prof. Wolf Hilbertz, coral scientist Dr. Tom Goreau, and Abdul Azeez Abdul Hakeem, Marine Envionmental Consultant to Banyan Tree Maldives, and with the help of a large number of enthusiastic staff and even the assistance of some of the guests, the two meters high and 12 meters in diameter Vabbinfaru Lotus, a unique reef restoration project, has been successfully launched in November 2001.
The same method was previously used very successfully by this team on the neighboring island of Angsana Ihuru, which is also under Banyan Tree’s umbrella, and well known for its reputation as an environmentally conscious and “green“ island, where coral survival was dramatically enhanced by applying Mineral Accretion technology. The Ihuru Barnacle project, a volcano shaped artificial reef structure, about 4 meters tall and 6 meters across, located in 6 meters depth, was started exactly five years earlier in November 1996, and has become a colorful and fertile mini ecosystem of its own. Also on Angsana Ihuru, the “Necklace“, a submerged breakwater structure in the lagoon, about 40 meters long, 4 meters wide, and 1.5 meters high, is protecting the nearby beach through Mineral Accretion. The growing limestone on the structure, which has already achieved a thickness of up to 20 cm in places, helps break the force of the waves and reduce erosion on the beach. A third feature on Ihuru are three identical truncated pyramids in deeper water which serve as coral nurseries and homes for fish and other organisms. In 1998, when most corals in the natural reef died of heat shock, 60-80% of the corals growing on the structures survived.
The structure, shaped in the form of a giant Lotus flower, was designed and built by the specialists right on site at the northern beach of the island under the curious eyes of holidaymakers as well as all the staff members of the Banyan Tree Maldives. During the duration of the construction work, which lasted one week, the scientists were happy to find so much interest among guests and employees, who were all eager to learn more about this exciting coral reef restoration project and its background.
Coral reefs are the mosr complex ecosystems in the sea and are often described as the rainforests of the ocean. All around the world and also throughout the Maldives, these “rainforests“ have been severely affected by rising global temperatures responsible for the bleaching and death of corals. In 1998 record high water temperatures killed most of the corals throughout the Indian Ocean, and Maldivian reefs, the best in the region, didn’t escape the effects. A method invented by Prof. Hilbertz and Dr. Goreau called Mineral Accretion now enables them to restore marine habitats by using completely safe low voltage electrical currents to grow solid limestone structures in the sea and making additional energy available for the corals, thus accelerating coral growth, reproduction, increasing their ability to resist environmental stresses, making the corals visibly brighter colored and in general healthier.
The Vabbinfaru Lotus is not only a visually appealing object but combines aesthetics with purpose. It is aimed at acting as a coral nursery, a Coral Ark that maintains species diversity. With its open flower shape, the Vabbinfaru Lotus‘ surface area is maximized, inviting the sun to promote development and growth of corals. Half a ton of welded construction reinforcing bar was used to build the frame, which was then carried by around 40 volunteers through the shallow lagoon and deposited on the slope of Vabbinfaru’s outer reef. The Lotus is now located in a depth between 3 and 10 meters.
As soon as the structure was placed in its final position, naturally broken pieces of live coral that had been damaged by waves and corals that were growing on top of loose rocks and rubble were rescued by the team of specialists and placed on the Lotus. These coral fragments were either attached to the frame by wedging them into crevices or using plastic cable ties to secure them firmly so they will not move with the waves. Around 900 meters of cable have been connected to the Vabbinfaru Lotus. The electricity for the Lotus, which uses around 600 watts of power, only a little more than each of the fish-attracting lights on the jetty, comes from transformers converting high voltage alternating current into low voltage direct current.
Now divers and snorkelers can watch this incredible and magical process as within a few days to weeks those fixed fragments are solidly cemented in place as white limestone grows around them. Coral larvae, which are tiny free swimming baby corals, will settle on this clean limestone rock produced by Mineral Accretion. All other forms of coral reef life will quickly follow, transforming this Mineral Accretion structure into a real coral reef, dominated by corals with a high density and with a complete and diversified selection of normal reef creatures.
Now with the Vabbinfaru Lotus as one more of Banyan Tree’s reef restoration projects in place, another vital step has been taken to keep the rainforests of the sea, those wonders of the underwater world with all their delicate beauty and compelling fascination, alive.