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The Biorock: Saving Gili Air’s Ecosystem by building artificial coral reefs

As the ferryboat approaches Gili Air, my man and I fancy ourselves in paradise. Hundreds of exotic fish are swimming around in beautiful turquoise waters as we set foot on the white sandy beach. However, looks can be deceiving.

The coral reefs around Gili Air are badly damaged. The local fishermen use a technique called dynamite fishing passed on through generations. The tourist industry certainly contributes by dropping their anchors carelessly and not teaching the scuba divers to watch their feet and fins whilst swimming around. Other tourists pick up shells or dead coral on the beach to take with them as a souvenir. As a result coastal erosion increases, fish and other sea creatures find fewer places to eat and shelter.

Since 2000 Gili Eco Trust, a local non-governmental organisation, protects the coral reefs around Indonesia. One very efficient way is the introduction of the biorock by the French Delphine Strobbe. The biorock is a steel structure put into sea a few meters off shore where loose coral is attached to.

Together with Anna Stumpf from Manta Dive School, who informed us about the biorock, and three other volunteers we board a small boat to Gili Meno. It’s a good place to look for loose coral as unfortunately there are still illegal fishing practices going on here. The exact location is picked carefully as it has the same characteristics as the water of Gili Air when it comes to the depth, temperature of the water and the tides. Coral are very fragile organisms, to have a positive result you have to imitate the habitat as best as you can.

Armed with gloves against the painful fire coral and diving gear, we dive into the tropical water. Under the watchful eye of Anna, we gently put the loose coral in a basket. A short boat ride back and the divers immediately attach the collected coral pieces with a zip tie to the structure. A weak current of electricity running through the biorock stimulates the growth of newly attached corals. The new artificial reef immediately attracts curious juvenile fish. It takes two to three years though for the artificial reef to be fully independent.

If you ever find yourself in Bali, be sure to visit the biorock-park and contribute if you can. Just promise me one thing: Do not take any shells or dead coral with you. Even the smallest piece of dead coral plays an important role in the future of this gorgeous white sand beach.

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