Biri Initiative - Restoring Damaged Reefs and More
In 2006, Scotsman Richard Ewen, a long-time resident of the Philippines, opened a resort on Biri Island in Northern Samar. Tourists had long been drawn to the island by its extraordinary rock formations, but they were also beginning to discover the high quality of diving to be had over Biri’s coral reefs. It soon became apparent, however, that large areas of reef had been devastated by illegal fishing methods, and that immediate action was needed both to save the reefs and ensure a future for local fishermen.
To address this urgent need, in March 2012 Richard registered Biri Initiative Org. as a non-profit organisation with the Securities & Exchange Commission (#CN201204546).
Since then, Biri Initiative’s Board have been busy introducing ourselves to local stakeholders, explaining our programs and seeking their input, familiarising ourselves with regulations and procedures (at both local and central government levels), and building strategic ties with experts with the knowledge and technology we need to achieve our goals.
In this regard, Biri Initiative has formed a key partnership with the developers of “reefbuds”, a major advance in artificial reef technology that will form a cornerstone of our work. After gaining hands-on experience in reefbud production and deployment elsewhere in the Philippines, Biri Initiative will deploy the first reefbuds off Biri in the autumn of 2013. This represents a major vote of confidence in us by local stakeholders, and fills us with confidence that our efforts will be both well-received and effective in helping ensure a sustainable future for Biri.
Reefbuds: Innovation in Coral Reef Regeneration
The cornerstone of reef-regeneration efforts in Biri is the “reefbud”, a revolutionary advance in artificial reef technology. These will be deployed at strategic locations within Biri’s Marine Protected Areas, and will also be showcased in our innovative Marine Park, a free educational facility for all.
Reefbuds are a new technology developed in the Philippines by the late Austrian-German environmental geoscientist Dr. Harald Kremnitz and Filipino partner Benjamin Tayag Jr.
In 2006, they won a Country Development Marketplace grant from the World Bank to finance a pilot program called the “REEForestation Using Recycled Waste Materials” project, placing reefbuds offshore from selected coastal towns.
Reefbuds are superficially similar to an established artificial reef technology made of concrete known as a “reefball”. But on closer inspection, they are quite different. Reefbuds combine environment-friendly inorganic materials (including beach sand, cement and pebbles), and organic materials from a variety of possible sources. This special mix is formed into structures with the following characteristics:
POROSITY: A reefbud is like a sponge, absorbing sea water together with the marine life suspended in it, such as spores, plankton and algae. Even in strong currents, marine life can latch onto or take root in the reefbud as the currents drive them into its porous cavities.
CALCIFICATION: The blend of materials in a reefbud reacts with sea water and triggers a calcification process much like the natural calcification processes that create coral reefs, crab shells, turtle shells, etc.
STABILITY: Because reefbuds are massive structures (typically weighing from 400 to 650kg) that become even heavier as they absorb sea water and marine life, they do not move even in strong currents during storms. Moreover, their hydrodynamic form allows currents to flow around them instead of pushing on them. This stability allows reefbuds to become permanent homes and spawning grounds for marine life.
REEFBUD PRODUCTION: At left, a finished reefbud dries in the sun. At right, a fresh mold awaits its turn.
EASILY AVAILABLE RAW MATERIALS: The main raw materials of reefbuds are beach sand and cement, which account for 75% by volume. The remaining 25% of the mix is biomass. In developing reefbuds, priority was given to assuring these materials would be available in close proximity to the locations where the reefbuds would be deployed. Particularly noteworthy is that reefbuds are made using sea water and beach sand, generally considered totally unsuited to concrete structures. The biomass can contain a range of ingredients available in coastal communities in the tropics, such as coconut husks or shredded rice stalks.
COLONISATION SPEED: The most remarkable feature of reefbuds is the speed at which they fulfill their purpose. Algae, small fish, anemones and shellfish are found aplenty on reefbuds as soon as eight weeks after deployment even in a marine-dead area (only sand or mud), and there is currently no faster way to revitalise a severely damaged coral reef.
The first deployment of reefbuds took place in ANILAO, BATANGAS in January 2007, with a plan to deploy 300 in total. However, due to delays caused by local authorities, full-scale implementation of the project was moved to ROSARIO, CAVITE.
Coastal waters off Rosario had long been considered “marine dead”. On the plus side, it had a more developed people’s organisation than Anilao, and a more dynamic local government, and most importantly, the Cavite Export Processing Zone, located in Rosario, was highly supportive of the project.
Between 2007 and Dec. 31, 2012, no fewer than 1,165 reefbuds were deployed off Rosario. By all accounts, these have been so effective, the local fishing industry has been totally rejuvenated.
Before the arrival of reefbuds off Rosario, local fishermen travelled all the way to Bataan and Batangas provinces to fish. Now the situation has been reversed, with fishermen from other provinces wanting to fish in Rosario. The number of boats registered to fish in Rosario waters grew from 1,200 in 2007 to over 3,500 in 2012.
Because of their success in Rosario, reefbuds were chosen for the reef rehabilitation of the country’s top tourist destination, BORACAY ISLAND.
In mid-2012, Boracay launched a P60 million rehabilitation project after finding that over 90% of its corals were dead. The project is called “Code Blue,” a hospital emergency code for a patient requiring immediate medical attention. Funded by the Loren Legarda Foundation, the project has placed 5,000 reefbuds along a 2-km stretch of Boracay’s celebrated white sand beach.
In early 2013, deployment of reefbuds also began at the popular tourist resort of Sabang Beach in PUERTO GALERA, MINDORO.
And in autumn 2013, the first reefbuds will be deployed by Biri Initiative off BIRI ISLAND.