UH to Develop Living Coastal Protection System Inspired by Coral Reefs : Kauai Now : Kauai News & Information

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Defense graph. (Images courtesy of University of Hawaii)

The University of Hawaii is developing an artificial coral reef ecosystem, inspired by natural reefs, to help protect coastlines from flooding, erosion and storm damage.

UH will receive up to $25 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the five-year project, which is a joint effort between UH’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology -Mānoa and the UH Applied Research Laboratory. The goal is to create an engineered structure that dissipates wave energy while providing habitat for corals and other reef life.

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“The Rapid Resilient Reefs for Coastal Defense project will be the first of its kind in taking an integrated, ecosystem-level approach to designing and building a living coastal defense system,” said Ben Jones, the project’s principal investigator and director of Ocean Science and Technology at the Applied Research Laboratory, said in a press release. “It’s a huge challenge. We have assembled a team of experts right here in Hawaii who, in partnership with Florida Atlantic University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, will design real solutions that will help our community and other communities around the tropical Pacific that are already facing the effects of climate change. .”

Rising sea levels and wave-induced flooding during increasingly frequent storms threaten coastlines and more than 1,700 military installations operated by the US Department of Defense in coastal areas around the world. Natural coral reefs provide substantial protection to shorelines. As sea levels rise and coral reefs degrade, existing storm mitigation solutions may prove insufficient and damage from storm surges and flooding will continue to impact communities. communities and infrastructure.

“This award will enable our world-class experts to develop cutting-edge technology that will have a significant impact here in Hawaiʻi and around the world,” UH-Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno said in the press release. “We are proud to have UH research at the forefront of creating a solution to a global problem.”

The new project integrates coastal engineering and hydrodynamics with expertise in coral reef ecology and adaptive biology to enable the team to rapidly develop a living breakwater system that can adapt to the rise seas and rising ocean temperatures.

“The typical fringing reef consists of a fore reef along the slope, a reef crest which absorbs much of the wave energy, and a protected back reef which is home to more delicate species”, said Zhenhua Huang, professor of ocean and resource engineering at the School of Ocean. and Earth Science and Technology and Principal Investigator for Basic Structure Engineering, said in the press release. “We intend to achieve similar wave attenuation using thin-walled perforated core structures that are efficient and inexpensive energy sinks. We hope this project can provide a win-win solution for the preservation of coastal marine natural resources and coastal protection.

It is essential to establish corals and other reef supporting organisms on reef structures. Fragments of known heat-tolerant colonies will be attached to succession modules, reef-mimicking structures that will be attached to base wave-attenuating structures. Larvae of known thermotolerant coral species will also be encouraged to settle on these structures.

“Designing succession modules that attract coral larvae and then prevent them from being eaten or overgrown by algae is key to starting a living reef,” Josh Madin, associate research professor at the Institute of Marine Biology in ‘Hawaii at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology and Principal Investigator for Ecosystem Engineering,’ said in the press release. “The larvae are very poor swimmers and therefore need to be caught in cracks and nooks in the structure. We will use 3D design and biofilm chemistry to attract larvae and encourage colonization, while discouraging algae growth. In addition to this, we will use sounds that mimic a healthy reef to attract organisms that help coral growth. »

Additionally, the team will explore cost-effective ways to supplement bleached coral feeding and even actively shade or cool the reef in the early stages of reef development and during marine heat waves.

“The planet’s coral reefs are declining under the combined onslaught of human impacts,” Rob Toonen, a professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and lead researcher for adaptive biology, said in the press release. “This project builds on more than a decade of research at HIMB into practical solutions for breeding thermally tolerant corals that can withstand these stresses and rebuild the reef structure that protects our coastal roads, runways and our neighborhoods.

The team will collaborate with scientists and engineers from Makai Ocean Engineering in Oʻahu, Florida Atlantic University, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and Ohio State University. Additional partnerships will also facilitate various aspects of the project.

To scale up this groundbreaking effort, Makai Ocean Engineering, a Hawaii-based company, will handle major construction, anchoring and installation, and an Australian company, Reef Design Labs, will create flexible, reusable forms to build hundreds of succession modules.

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