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Reef-er gladness: Bio-based approach to coastal protection

Marine consulting something uses biomimicry to construct more environmentally friendly artificial reefs

As a scuba diver, I took avid interest in hearing about ASR Ltd, which is a marine consulting company that describes itself as a pioneer in developing and constructing multipurpose reefs.

Yes, these are artificial reefs. No, these are not concrete seawalls. The ASR reefs are constructed with what are essentially supertough sandbags that are made out of a geotextile fiber that promotes the growth of natural marine habits and then sunk in places where they can help protect the shoreline or change the wave energy. Coral they ain't, but they ARE built according to the principles of biomimicry, which is the practice of emulating processes of nature in products and such.

ASR Marketing Director Chris Jensen says the reefs, which have been used for coastal protection in projects as farflung as England, the United States, New Zealand and India, have a carbon footprint that is up to six times lower than what has been associated with other options for building up coastlines or protecting beaches, such as rocks or concrete armor.

The fiber that ASR uses promotes growth within the environment: At one recent project site, fish were eating sea grasses within two weeks of the installation, he says. And at the Gold Coast Reef in Narrowneck, Australia, there are no more than 270 different species associated with the site, according to Jensen. (That location won the Queensland State Environmental Award.)

You can see the artificial reef underwater in the photo below:

Jensen says that the reefs are being used by municipalities for coast protection and to decrease beach erosion by reducing wave energy. Increasingly, however, he says the company has been receiving inquiries from high-end hotel chains interested in creating a more "natural" beach environment near their resort. ASR uses it own 3-D software to study potential project locations for more than two months during the region's swell season, when waves are most active.

One final note for those of you who appreciate recreational activities at the beach. ASR has a bit of a cult following with surfers. Here's a fun article from the Financial Times and here's a surfer reaping the benefits of a new reef finished earlier this year off India.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com