Meet the Dutch students who are helping us replant coral reefs in Indonesia - Snapper

Meet the Dutch students who are helping us replant coral reefs in Indonesia

Meet the Dutch students who are helping us replant coral reefs in Indonesia

Gepost door SnapperX op 23-12-2019

Coral reefs are the lungs of our ocean, but so far around 95% of all Indonesian reefs are damaged or destroyed by human activity. With the help of students from TU Delft, we’re implementing an exciting new method to keep them alive: Biorock.

Just metres off the beach, beneath the clear water, there’s a big steel structure. It’s covered in coral and small tropical fish are darting around it. It isn’t a rusty, washed ashore section of an old shipwreck. It isn’t an art installation either, although it might look like one: the frame tingles with electrical currents, which help it create a rocky coating – which in turn becomes a nursery for coral reefs. 

For one of our conservation projects in Indonesia, local and Dutch university students are working together to install multiple of these electrically charged shapes along the coast of Temboan beach on the island of Sulawesi. Supervised by nature conservation foundation Masarang and funded by SnapperX, The structures are called Biorocks, or ‘biological rocks’: an exciting and revolutionary technique to restore the coral reefs that have been damaged by human activity.

Photo via Maibritt Pedersen Zari.

Indonesia features some 20% of the world’s coral reefs and has the richest marine biodiversity on earth. The ugly side of paradise is that by now about 95% of those reefs are destroyed, damaged or degraded due to global warming, over-fishing, agriculture, and deforestation. This is exactly what destroyed the coral reefs around Temboan beach. 

“Deforestation has turned the coastal jungle of Temboan into a huge grassland area that catches fire every year,” SnapperX founder Tom Nuytens explains. “The run off along with chemical wastewater from agriculture reach the ocean, destroying the coral reefs. By planting trees, we hope to improve the water quality and with the Biorock system we hope to speed up the coral restoration.”

The Masarang staff and the current research team (Ferdinand Knoester, Misiu Smits, Alexander de Jong, Christian Alferlink, Arnout Quast) on their way to Temboan. Every few months a new set of 5 students flies over to Indonesia to continue the research.

A research team has been in place since 2018. It consists of five students from Delft Technical University and a group of students from the Indonesian Minaesa Technical University in Tomohon. They map coral reefs, water depth, movement of water, etc. Based on their research, they build Biorock structures, place them in the water strategically, and put them to work.

The research students attach live coral that has been damaged by storms to the structure. Low voltage electricity driven by solar panels interacts with the minerals in the seawater, causing limestone to grow on the structure. The result: a perfect breeding ground for aquatic life.

So far, it has been observed that low voltage Biorock systems enable the coral to grow 3 to 5 times faster than normal, good for several centimeters of new rock per year. The coral is also more resilient: in times of catastrophe, such as after bleaching (under pollution or heat) or a hurricane, corals grown on Biorock have way higher survival rates.


A drawing of some of the designs the students came up with to test with the Biorock method, which they expect to perform better in breaking waves from more directions.

The Biorock method isn’t new. It’s been around since the 80’s, but there was never enough funding to fully research it. 

“Coral reefs are the lungs of our oceans,” Tom Nuytens emphasizes. “They generate half of Earth’s oxygen and absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide generated from burning fossil fuels. They have suffered from our actions, so it’s also up to us to try and make things right.”



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