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Technology Around the World

Aired August 15, 2004 - 16:00:00   ET


RAJPAL: And into the deep blue sea, our intrepid Michael Holmes dives into the underworld, where coral reefs are getting a new lease on life.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's quite extraordinary. Those reef balls have been there for only three months and there's already plenty growing on them.

RAJPAL: A concrete plan in Kuwait, not just another fish tale.


RAJPAL: Hello, again.

If someone says to you he has a concrete idea, he means he has a solid idea that will stand the test of time. Well, we're going to be more literal than that; an idea that really is concrete and it will stand the test of time, a minimum of 500 years. It will also help preserve the world's coral reefs, which are not only spectacular to look at but are also rich in biodiversity.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Off the coast of Kuwait, a rather odd looking object is about to be tossed into the Persian Gulf, one of the final steps in a process that begins like this.

Concrete. A mold. And what so far appears to be a terrific idea.

They're called reef balls, here high and dry after manufacture. A variety of sizes and designs. But their final resting place is under the waves, where they are being used to create artificial reefs, marine habitats, breakwaters, erosion preventers and some very cool diving destinations.

(on camera): Once the mold comes off a reef ball, you're left with, well, a lump of concrete, but this is not just any lump and this is not just any type of concrete. This is a very complex lump of complex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot of complexity. That's the thing about the habitat, the microsurfacing, the macrosurface there, to provide protection and shape. There's the design with the holes in it, which are convex, which actually create small vortexes which disperse nutrients.

HOLMES (voice-over): Oh, yes, the concrete, a finally chewed recipe that makes the reef ball enviro-friendly and actually attracts both flora and fauna, and with a pH level close to that of seawater. End result: a fish and plant magnet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It amazes one. It's a wonder of life, really, when you see these -- within the hour of putting them in there, you will see fish quite happily swimming in them, using them as habitat immediately.

HOLMES: Mike Sims (ph) runs a company called Eco Seas in Kuwait, but he's also a contractor for the reef ball parent company, which is based in the United States. You see, reef balls aren't just in Kuwait. Far from it. Nearly 4,000 projects over the past 10 years, 1/2-million reef balls deployed off New Zealand, parts of Africa, the Middle East and here a spectacular project in Antigua.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reef balls are important for a lot of reasons. They're an important educational tool for people to understand how important natural coral reefs are, but also an important tool for us to be able to restore coral reefs by transplanting corals on top of them as well as to replace the habitat that corals create.

HOLMES: Coral transplantation has become a highly successful benefit of the reef ball. When they're made, small indentations are carefully created during the concrete pour. Coral is then placed in a special mixture and essentially just planted on the reef ball. The results have, for the most part, been spectacular. Endangered reefs have been given some new life and new reefs created where once there was just sand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After we made the first test deployment of some balls in Gawa Island (ph) and Donkey Reef, we transplanted corals down here, and to actually go back after a couple of weeks to see them still growing, still strong, it was a very successful deployment, and the propagation of corals is a very important part of growing and saving the fauna and life forms out here.

HOLMES: Today we're the guests of the very active and very enthusiastic Kuwait Dive Club. For years they've been building artificial reefs to dive on, but these days they are reef ball converts.

This from the clubs biggest deployment, dozens of reef balls shipped out via barge and lowered into place by crane, a massive endeavor, but this is one bunch of keen Kuwaitis.

We suit up as the preparations to launch the latest reef ball continue. Down below, a forest of reef balls and schools of fish, a new ecosystem where not so long ago there was an underwater desert.

They might look like something from a science fiction movie, and there is a lot of science behind their development, but at their core they are remarkably simple and effective.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, reef balls are designed with no metal rebar inside of them, nothing that would make them degrade, so in essence a reef ball is designed to last a minimum of 500 years.

With a natural coral reef going around it, of course it's going to help protect it even more, so it's going to life, last, even longer than that. So in essence, a reef ball is a permanent structure on the ocean sea floor.

HOLMES (on camera): Well, that's quite extraordinary. Those reef balls have been down there for only three months, and there's already plenty growing on them. Some coral will grow 15 centimeters, up to 15 centimeters, in a year, so before long that's going to be a real reef.

(voice-over): The dive club now regularly adds to its reef ball collection, this may just be a small one but, well, we like it. It's a gift, you see. No ordinary reef ball, it's a GLOBAL CHALLENGES reef ball. Another aspect of this program is encouraging corporate or individual sponsorship of balls. You get the GPS coordinates so you can find it, your on plaque, and you can visit any time.

Michael Holmes for GLOBAL CHALLENGES, Kuwait.


RAJPAL: Ah, that Michael Holmes, he'll go to any lengths, or in this case any depths, to get the story.

Well, folks, that is it for us, from New Delhi. I'm Monita Rajpal, thank you so much for watching. We'll see you next time.



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