At the beginning of this century Bunaken Marine Park was chosen to be the first place in the world for new state-of-the-art ceramic reef models. With the lead from marine biologist Dr. Mark Erdman, a new artificial reef system “EcoReefs” was introduced. Unlike any earlier artificial reef structures, the idea behind EcoReefs was that the installed non-toxic ceramic blocks were designed to mimic natural reef thickets of branching Acroporid corals to be ideal for new corals to attach and grow. The settling plates at the center of each module create a shaded microenvironment for small creatures and eventually the blocks will become part of a natural reef ecosystem, leaving nothing artificial behind.
The very first study site was established in Manado Tua island, in front of a village called Negeri. The reef had been destroyed in 1970’s by damaging fishing activities and corals were reduced to rubble. Local villagers were eager to restore their reefs and agreed to help and protect the installation. The reef’s recovery exceeded all expectations. Few years later it was time for a second Eco Reef installation in Fukui, Bunaken island.
Like Negeri, the vibrant dive site Fukui in Bunaken used to be a popular fishing spot among local islanders. Before Bunaken Marine Park was establishes in 1991 destructive fishing activities and boat anchoring had caused considerable damage to the shallow reef areas, and due to regular strong current sweeping over the reef, many corals were broken into rubble. Even though the dive site had for years been protected from further fishing activities and the only visitors to the site were divers and snorkelers, the rubble areas had not shown much improvement. Because of the currents small coral pieces were regularly turned over and over, making it difficult for new corals to attach and grow. The EcoReef installation in Fukui was was funded by Dr. Erdmann's family and friends in memory of his brother Stephen, who died in a bus accident in Egypt in 2003, and was carried out with the help from the marine park’s dive community.
Scientists were amazed by the speed that both reefs started to recover from the very beginning. Now, over ten years later, the corals in Negeri and Fukui are thriving and the reefs sustain healthy fish and invertebrate ecosystems.
Photo credits: Edo Ang and Jaakko Aalto