Reefs – sizes and shapes

DNA Sculpture at Puerto Cancun. photo by, copyright 2011

Small or large, simple or complex, sculptures and forms can be any shape or size…each one becoming a unique living being, like you. Each one will grow with less human control than many artists or architects would like.  Some will bulge just where you wanted them to turn in, or will be settled by a coral variety that clashes in color with an adjacent species.  The unexpected and predictable wayward ways of biology and ecology are what make this work a true collaboration with nature.  It could be pruned and controlled, maybe it will need some interaction, but I like watching what the organisms do.

Coral Skirt. Pemuteran, Bali 2009
Coral Skirt
Coral Skirt, 5 months growth. photo by Rani E. Morrow-Wuigk copyright 2010
Coral Skirt, 2012
Coral Skirt. 2 yrs 8 months growth. photo by Komang Astika, 2012
Coral Skirt. 3 yrs 3 months. photo by Joey Ellis, 2013

For a more in-depth story about the making of the Coral Skirt, visit Biorock Bali Expedition 2009

I have said that if we can build a super highway, we can build a super reef.  And turns out, Wolf Hilbertz and Tom Goreau were planning such a feat to surround Ihuru in the Maldives to protect it from being pummeled and reclaimed by the lapping rising sea. Below is an example of an extended reef they installed along the coast of Helen Island (notice the dark band parallel to shore). I believe they used solar to power it. The structure is 150 feet (50m) long, 3 feet (1m) tall, 15 feet (5m wide).

The beach grew by 50 feet (15 m) seaward over 150 feet (50 m) of shore in 2 years.

Helen Island Biorock Reef structure

Apparently the water used to come right up to the palm trees and resort before the installation.  You can see how much sand there is now, all because the waves are slowed as they flow through the artificial reef structures that act as permeable breakwaters.  Natural coral reefs are permeable, too, since corals need current to flow through them to get their nutrients.  Sadly, the plan to create “the necklace” to encircle the island was never implemented, so sand bags and dredging continue as main attempts to stave off waves;  neither helps bio-diversity or has any real chance of forwarding life-supporting innovation.

Installation of the artificial reef. photo by Caspar Henderson or Wolf Hilbertz

This photo shows the  simple arches that grew limestone and corals to protect the shores of Helen Island.

Coral restoration is an act where practical meets beautiful meets resourceful meets viable meets doable meets valuable.

I wonder what this form will attract? It’s an extrovert in need of its introverted partner.

Extrovert model
"Extrovert" model in progress
"extrovert" model living sea sculpture
"Extrovert" small model in progress
"Extrovert" small model in progress
Looks taller this way

Perforated stainless represents where mild steel expanded metal mesh (EMM) will go.  The EMM should fill in faster with minerals creating visual interest and a denser substrate for organisms to attach to and colonize.

"Extrovert" - small model inspired by relaxed surface algorithm, 2012.

As we enter 2013, I want to say a positive word for the coral refuge in Cancun. During the year and half of waiting to install this piece,

DNA under a tarp at the deployment yard. The mesh is example of EMM. photo March 2012

I have learned alot about maintaining enthusiasm while gaining some reality checks about bureaucracy.  Being able to participate in the creation of living art for an underwater museum and a national marine park is exciting and challenging. Patience is with me as I keep the vision for installation this May or June.  May patience and kindness find you as 2013 flows in~~~







Electrifying a Reef

Part 2:  With Biorock mineral accretion, what happens chemically during electrolysis? That’s the question I want to answer, but first, I’m attuned to the seasonal moment.  If you’re in the tropics, you aren’t feeling the darkness of the winter solstice we experience in the upper latitudes.  Up here we celebrate snow and cold, the warming from wool, hot food, and hopefully good insulation.

Electrifying a reef
Dec 19, 2009 Jokimaa, Southern Finland - Courtesy Seppo Ranta. copyright 2009

The beautiful “frost flowers,” as Jeff Bowman refers to them in Robert Krulwich’s NPR piece, are home to millions of bacteria.  These freezing super salty forms remind me of Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!  You can’t see all the microscopic life, but it IS there.

“No one believes Horton. They think he’s crazy.”

Aggregations of shimmering crystals like these are eye candy.  They conjure up an image of flocked corals.  Not bleached corals, I’m happy to say; something about them is festive and fantastical.  Since they may be a result of warming poles, their beauty is likely a paradox, yet for now, they appear as winter wonderland mysteries.  They are a biological chemical feat.

salty ocean blossoms
photo by Matthias Weitz/ "Suddenly There's a Meadow in the Ocean with Flowers Everywhere"

Which brings me back to the question: What is the chemistry behind the electrolytic process for Biorock mineral accretion?  Now that the power is on, what happens in the seawater?

bit-o-biorock jewelry
Bit-o-Biorock pendants in process. Photo by Clay Connally, 2012

According to a research paper by Wolf Hilbertz and Thomas J. Goreau1, deposition of minerals results from alkaline conditions created at the cathode – negatively charged steel sculpture, in our case – by the reduction reaction: 

2H2O+2e =H2 +2OH                                                                                                        2 water molecules + 2 electrons = 1 hydrogen + 2 hydroxide molecules

which precipitates calcium and magnesium minerals from seawater: A basic natural limestone substrate that continues to “grow” and “heal” if damaged while also preventing rust/corrosion of the metal.

OH + HCO3 + Ca++ = CaCO3 + H2O                                                                  hydroxide + hydrogen carbonate (bicarbonate ion) + calcium = calcium carbonate + water

2OH + Mg++ = Mg(OH)2                                                                                                    2 hydroxide molecules +  magnesium (3rd most abundant mineral in seawater) = brucite (mineral form of magnesium hydroxide: not a very stable mineral for accretion)

In contrast, the anode becomes acidic due to:
2H2O = 4H+ + O2 + 4e                                                                                                        2 water molecules = 4 protons + oxygen + 4 electrons

and highly oxidizing conditions result in:
2Cl = Cl2 + 2e                                                                                                                  2 ionic chlorides/organic chlorides= elemental chlorine + 2 electrons

The sum of the net reactions at both electrodes (the {+} charged titanium mesh anode and the {-} charged steel cathode) should be neutral with regard to hydrogen ion production, and hence with regard to CO2 generation through acid–base equilibrium and carbonic acid hydrolysis:

2HCO3 = CO3−− + CO2 + H2O                                                                                           2 hydrogen carbonates = carbonate + carbon dioxide + water

Samuel Raj
"Flame" by Samuel Raj. CC flickr

As a metalsmith, I learned over the years what a reducing flame, oxidizing flame, and neutral flame do to metal.  Equations were not a critical part of learning this, though; it was through hands-on experience that I saw what happened from varying flames. But for the curious and chemistry buffs, I hope this shines light for you.  I’m still learning what the equations mean through my experiments in tanks and the ocean.  Without my “mistakes” of plating stainless steel with iron, and accidentally creating rust baths as I try to grow pendants, I would not be able to grasp these principles.

Kochi at Hitachi Seaside Park in Japan

And without incredible plants like these in Japan, Dr. Seuss might not have drawn endless fields of clover for Horton to roam, seeking to find…

Photo from Alice’s blog at Extraordinary Travel Destinations Off the Beaten Path

1Thomas J. Goreau and Wolf Hilbertz, 2012. Reef Restoration Using Seawater Electrolysis in Jamaica; Innovative Methods of Marine Ecosystem Restoration 4:  36-37.

Electrifying a Reef

Part one:  Will I be shocked if I touch the sculpture while the current is flowing?  NO.  According to Dr. Thomas Goreau, President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance when asked who will be liable if someone gets shocked:

“There is no possible chance of injury from the very low voltage direct current used, and the circuit has fully automatic instantaneous shutoff capability if there is any damage to the cable. We have installed more than 300 such projects in around 30 countries all around the world, and never had the slightest problem. When we install it, I will short out the circuit holding the anode and the cathode in my bare hands to show that you don’t feel anything if you do.”

Here you can watch the installation of a Living Sea Sculpture:

And another one:t

Coral Skirt
"Coral Skirt," by Colleen Flanigan. Pemuteran, Bali. copyright 2009

Komang Astika and Made find the location in Karang Lestari (Coral Protection Project).  The small sculpture will cement itself to the sandy seafloor.


Sea Level Rise – will we float sink or swim?

I just watched Chasing Ice today.  Intense…It changed my course for writing.  Instead of describing the electrolysis of mineral accretion, I am moved to talk glaciers.

Blue Underside Revealed
Camille Seaman Photography, copyright 2010

Glacier week seemed to start last Friday for me when Camille Seaman was featured on the TED Blog.  Both Camille and James Balog make it clear that the tipping point for icebergs is past.  The glowing, crystalline packs of frozen water will be saved in photographs and video for our archives, but most likely not for our planet. The giants are melting and flowing into the ocean at unprecedented rates.  So then I think, how CAN the polar bears be saved? Are massive ice blowers being built?  Dr. Steven Amstrup says that with carbon emission mitigation and other shifts in management, there is still hope for the bears and other ice animals.  Right, so stay in the moment, plan for the 6th mass extinction, keep hope alive,…

By Susan van Gelder/ Flickr creative commons

Back to the movie: The Extreme Ice Survey capturing time-lapse evidence of rapid change indicates that 150 million people may be displaced due to sea level rise. All of what I am sharing seems less than positive, yet I found the story and the footage to be motivating; James Balog is yet another “lone hero” shining light on masses of matter to illuminate what the masses of humans need to do: cut emissions and industrial, havoc-wreaking activities in exchange for renewable energies and naturalizing systems.  I am already part of the choir, how to inspire more closet cooperative visionaries to sing louder and truer? Will a red alert account like this begin to melt policy maker resistance to embrace 350 ppm (carbon) or less?

Curling up this late evening with a book and escaping is not possible after I witnessed the most beautiful horror of black holes in the ice caused by dust, coal, and other accumulations of anthropogenic stuff that absorbs heat and radiates through the sheaths of solid turning liquid. Tonight I am going to stay with this feeling of even smaller smallness in wonder at geological time.  I never feel large like a mountain or an old tree, yet I look at them and feel their stability.  They change in color, offer seasons, but I like that they stay put like architectural ancestors. Watching the ice calving off in colossal towers dwarfed every mundane facet and illusion of “reality.”  Some things instantly expand your mind in reverse proportion to your perception of your physical size.

The latest work by Argentine architect, artist, and MIT resident Tomás Saraceno

I said to a friend, to lighten things up, “We’ll just make room for the 150 million people on the continents.”  And, then again, there is this playground made almost entirely of air.  According to the article, “A future iteration of On Space Time Foam will make the project’s concern with the environment more apparent, when it travels to the Maldives as a ‘floating biosphere […] made habitable with solar panels and desalinated water,’ a reaction to the environmental destruction the islands face as a result of climate change.”  (side note: The Island President is another epic film that entertains, educates, slaps you to wake up.) Will people live in floating biospheres?

Will we finally grow buildings underwater?

Biorock concept design by Wolf Hilbertz and colleagues
How long until artificial gills are available at REI?  Can oil rigs that have caused so much damage transform into futuristic cities for biodiveristy above and below the surface?
Lower Reef by, copyright 2010
Sea level rise is not a childhood frolic. I commend Romain Vakilitabar for tackling this topic, the humanitarian side, in his book, Matteo’s Day Off: A Story of Rising Seas.  He is seeking a publisher with large distribution and will offer all proceeds from sales to support an organization that addresses this complex issue.  At Making Waves 2012 we discussed his desire to find a good fit and the potential for his creativity to support LSS reef restoration. That would be fabulous.  If you know of a large distributor or another organization that has broad promoting power, please contact him.





This blog will be a curvilinear stream of consciousness.  A stream between both hemispheres of my brain, and yours. Living Sea Sculpture is more than an object, it is an intricate web of life, philosophy, and process.  Dot-to-dot drawings are predetermined,

fish balloon and fox
Transportation: dot-to-dot pages

but as we build our lives, we are lucky to have the freedom to connect whatever “dots” we choose or notice.  I am happy to be starting this conversation, what I hope will become an ongoing international conversation, about all aspects of human interaction with our coastal cousins.

Over the years, I realize there’s not a place for people to talk freely about coral restoration and marine ecosystem solutions in a personal and informal way.  Why?  All the details and ins and outs of processes, people, organisms are tied together intimately.

Lots of blogs and articles (and me) have repeatedly relayed the information about Biorock reefs (…low volt direct current precipitates limestone minerals to deposit…alkaline buffer zone..grow faster, survive warming…).  Other man-made reefs and coral nurseries have some glowing moments on green sites and in nature magazines also, yet the conclusion is the same: through a portrait of this man (fill in the blank) we can make the point that corals and other animals are endangered due to human activities and here is a sort of lone hero  bucking the odds. The odds may be stacked, but that is the call to ACT.

Wherever you are with whatever you know, you know enough to enter this conversation and have incredible impact. We can build new projects and coral conservatories together if we find each other.

I just read an article that said waiting for government or big corporations to take the lead on this is not the way.  Agreed. They will get involved, they are involved, and individuals from all backgrounds need inlets to get involved too.  Being nimble is an asset.  Coral restoration is not rocket science (although you can be a rocket scientist and do it); it is a practice and technology that grows out of a desire to cultivate healthier relationships with ourselves and our planet, to heal what is not well and find fun and adventure along the way.

Maybe you just have a fascination with playing with organic matter.  Whether you approach it as a gardener who longs for beautiful form and colorful vitality, an engineer who “knows” there is a better way to electrify an artificial reef (talk to me), a fisherman who needs fish, a scientist who wants to study the effects of low volt current on Zooxanthellae within coral polyps, a homeowner who doesn’t want to be washed to sea, a resort owner who woos tourists, an artist that makes sculpture, a diver that breathes underwater…

I’m not sure why I took so long to start this.  I have a lot to say and want to hear from you.  If you are part of the Living Sea Sculpture diaspora waiting to find your homeland, Welcome!

Hydnophora- Biorock experiement at SeaHorse Aquarium. photo by Clay Connally, 2011