Can Coral Reefs be Healed by Wave Power?

ocean energy converter buoy photo

Oh buoy! Could this ocean energy converter save coral reefs? Photo from SwellFuel

With almost half the world's coral reefs threatened with extinction and the rapid decline in the oceans' biodiversity, according to a recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it's going to take more than cloning reefs to save the seas. Enter an ominous-looking little buoy. Built in Houston, Texas by SwellFuel, the lightweight bot-like devise harnesses the energy of the ocean's waves and converts it to electricity. Inventor Chris Olson claims these floating wave-powered electricity generators can get coastal communities and resorts off the grid, and even power oil rigs (let's not go there).

The Lever Operating Pivoting Float (LOPF) generates 1,000 to 5,000 watts with a lever or "point absorber" that moves up and down with the waves, and links to an offshore "farm." Olson thinks the low-voltage charge his LOPF produces could regenerate coral reefs, so Cleantechnica suggests catching a wave.

bleached coral photo

Bleached coral. Photo via Flickr by Franklin Dattein

Stimulating coral "bio-rock" growth through electricity-charged reef restoration has been moderately successful in Florida and Bali to return small damaged patches back to health. Coral cloning techniques in which polyps are replanted in coral "gardens" can also regenerate growth in limited scope. But the lack of an inexpensive, low-emission power supply has limited the scale of restoration, so Swell Fuel's wave power units could be applied to offer a solution for more vast swaths that are destroyed.

These efforts are still band-aids and can't keep pace with the continued deterioration of reefs' ecosystems, as long as the reasons — ocean temps and acidity rising along with greenhouse gasses — aren't addressed aggressively.

The IUCN, which creates the Red List of endangered animals, is waving a red flag at governments that pledged in 2002 to halt the decline of biodiversity by 2010 at the U.N. Biodiversity Convention and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. We're less than a year away to meet that target, and the list just keeps getting longer.

In addition to efforts at resolving coral reef loss, such as expanding protected marine environments and reduction of overfishing, the IUCN says governments must reduce energy use and reassess impact. We might also skip the sunscreen, and eat less fish.

More on coral reefs:
Oceans of Change: Protecting the Planet's Life Support System
Caribbean Coral Reefs 'Flattened' Over the Past 40 Years
6 Steps to Saving the World's Coral Reefs
Coral Reef Loss in Southeast Asia to Reduce Food Supplies 80%: Strong International Action Needed

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