TEDxMonterey – Colleen Flanigan – Coral Restoration: Cultivating Mutual Symbiosis


Translator: Jenny Lam-Chowdhury
Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic Video: (Narrator) Anthropocene. A period marked by a regime change in the activity of industrial societies which began at the turn of the XIX century and which has caused global
disruptions in the Earth system on a scale unprecedented
in human history. Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution of the sea, land and air, resources depredation, land cover denudation, radical transformation
of the acumen, among others. These changes command
a major realignment of our consciousness
and world views, and call for different ways
to inhabit the Earth. Colleen Flanigan:
This is a human’s dining room. It’s a restoration experiment, where he left it alone
for a period of months to see if it would restore itself
to the way it was when he first bought the house.
(Laughter) Or, he hoped maybe
it would renovate itself and become what he was envisioning. But months later,
it’s pretty much the same. So for the next phase of his experiment, he’s going to build a bar,
put up some walls and clean a bit. Now, this is my dining room.
It’s one of them. It’s a large table coral
with such a valuable investment. You can see all the gorgeous coloured fish
attracted to the living space. And my visitors — I have a lot. They just rave about
how magical and functional it is. But, then a bomb blast — and someone dynamited for fish. Poseidon and I debate
about this all the time. Do we jut leave it alone
and hope the coral reef rubble will rise from the dead? Or, do we transform the destruction
and rebuild life-supporting habitat? I say rebuild — using Biorock
mineral accretion technology. To address the effects of human predatory
and parasitic symbiotic systems that float throughout the ocean unchecked, what if people hone in
on specific needs of other species and develop mutually symbiotic
relationships with other organisms, besides their pets and house plants? Do corals just need
a surface to settle upon like a shipwreck,
or maybe a million tires? No, it’s not a superficial problem. And will marine protected areas
be enough to ensure regeneration? They may keep out commercial fisheries
and other visible invasions, which is great, and important,
and necessary. Yet, many of the threats are invisible: climate change, pollution,
decreasing alkalinity and disease. Corals and their symbiotic beneficial
algae partners, the zooxanthellae, have lived in harmony for thousands,
maybe millions of years. The algae gives food and color
to the polyp animal in exchange for protection. But with warming waters
and compound stress they’ve been breaking up, and
they both suffer the consequences. The corals starve, turn [unclear]
and white, and the algae is probably eaten. It is sad. You can cry. There are some hopeful promising studies showing that corals may be adapting
to some of these increased temperatures. And I hope so. I hope they can evolve
and adapt, and quickly. But, right now, Biorock restoration
actively cultivates ecosystems. It stimulates vitality
at the cellular and skeletal level, and what better way to do this
than with electrolysis. This might be just
what the polyps and algae need. A three-way partnership that helps them
adapt to the traumatic trends. So here’s how it works — By running low volt direct current
through sea water the limestone minerals, abundant
in the ocean, deposit onto metal, and the resulting surface
is a natural substrate for corals to settle on and colonize. It becomes a non-invasive mineral rock. The electricity locally raises the PH
creating an alkaline buffer zone. This is important because with ocean
acidification and all the other factors, corals have a hard time getting
the calcium carbonate they need to build their excess skeletons. So essentially we’re giving them
free skeleton, so they can use their energy
for other vital activities, like reproduction.
They can grow faster, they can survive higher temperatures
that normally kill them. The electrolysis appears
to increase their tolerance to some environmental stress. Biorock was invented by architect,
Prof. Wolf Hilbertz, as a building material in the ’70s. It has high compression strength
and it’s self-repairing in the ocean. And he teamed up with Dr. Tom Goreau,
of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, to develop coral restoration,
sustainable fishing and permeable breakwaters. And it can be applied to oysters,
mussels and seagrasses. I want you to imagine coral polyps
invertebrate animals calcifying onto this aquatic topiary. So here is six years coral growth
in an area previously devastated by dynamite and cyanide fishing. The minerals keep building up
because the limestone is porous, and if you get really close,
if you’re there, you can see the hydrogen bubbles
fizzing up from the surface, so as long as the electricity is flowing,
the chemistry is going. There is about 60 coral arks
in Permuteran Bay in Bali, home of the largest
Biorock nursery in the world, and all of the native species
are represented. The community is very much
behind the project because it helps their eco-tourism,
supplies their fish stocks, and they love natural beauty. I got to help weld, install and plant
the structure back in 2004 at a workshop, and I just got this footage last week
from Thomas Sarkisian. He is the electrical engineer
I’m working with on a project, so I’m really very happy to be able
to share that with you, because that place looked really bad. Now, for you do-it-yourselvers
I want you to see the basic steps: design, weld, immerse, electrify — I’m hoping for
a self-contained power supply, solders homeless fragments, attach with wires and pliers, and watch it grow. (Laughter) They’re so sweet, thank you.
OK. (Applause) Now, this is another sculpture in Bali. It’s a little janky, it’s called “Zigzag”. It’s a very zigzaggy, but I wanted
to show you the progression: this is three months, two years, three and a half years. And after six years,
Liku Liku is overgrown. The sculptures can be any shape or size, from the small coral skirt
to reefs miles long. Maybe some tango dancers. If we can build a super highway, we can build a super reef. We already have artificial reefs thriving with 20 to 50 percent more biomass
than most natural reefs. I’m talking about
decommissioned oil wells, and rather than scrap them,
as most regulations require, we could apply wave or tidal energy
to prevent corrosion, and to provide an alkaline boost
to counter bounce ocean acidification caused by carbon absorption. It’s a great karmic twist. On my current living sea sculptures
inspired by DNA, and I owe great thanks to all
my Kickstarter backers, Harnisch Foundation,
Bertha Philanthropy, TED Fellowship, and a team that helped me
to make it this far. We plan to install it in the
Underwater Museum in the National Marine Park of Cancun, to distract and lure the tourists away from the over-snorkeled natural reefs, and so it can become a coral refuge
and biodiversity study. Science and policy are key
to coral health, and I invite you to add
the arts into the equation. Coral reefs are one of our planet’s
oldest natural communities, established reefs are
five to ten thousand years old, and according to scientist David Miller, humans share similar
innate immunity genes, so you’re deeply connected, and if they are in trouble,
you are in trouble. I’ve been talking a lot about
how we can help them because they truly are our life support. I imagine swimming around this table
with all sorts of species. Thankful, we were able to stimulate
mutual symbiosis in the Anthropocene. Thank you.
(Applause)

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