Colleen Flanigan

Director, TED Media, Miss Snail Pail


This conversation is closed.

Reviving corals -- how can your community maintain the living sea sculptures?

Do you live in or know of a place that could benefit from coral restoration, shore protection, artistic coral refuges?

Corals are dying due to many conditions largely caused by humans: overfishing, pollution, run-off, climate change, ocean acidification, sedimentation.

How we can implement more restoration to complement Marine Protected Areas and waste reduction?

I work to rehabilitate corals using Biorock® mineral accretion.
This is how it works:
low volt direct current through seawater precipitates mineral deposition onto metal. The resulting surface is a natural substrate for corals to settle upon and colonize. The process can increase their survival in heating trends, and the corals can grow faster because they are getting minerals for exoskeleton growth from the electrolysis. To learn more about a current project in Cancun, Mexico that unites art, science, and eco-tourism:
And also:

The aim is to help people and oceans live in better harmony.

What do you think makes the ideal scenario and approach for creating a successful coral refuge that is assured to be maintained after installation?

Do you have suggestions for creating a self-contained power supply to make this technology more viable worldwide?

Closing Statement from Colleen Flanigan

thank you all, for joining and sharing your voices.. And thanks, Troy, for those contacts; I did not get here in time to reply. This question led to discussion and agreement that there are problems and solutions are needed. Seems internal infrastructure and interdisciplinary programs are suggested. Bottom up. I tried to reframe the question to invite more direct responses about who within communities are interested in this work and how can they set up systems to be responsible for these type of projects. What are the incentives and ways to get more projects going. To date, Bali has the 2 most cared for Biorock nurseries and it is because of expats and locals, NGO's and dive shops, govt, tourists, universities, and workshops doing it together. As an artist activist, I believe this art/sci work can help the environment, the economy, and education, so hope to meet more partners open and ready to make it happen.

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    Mar 9 2012: Hey Colleen!
    I suppose if it is put down in areas that are frequented by divers there is the possibility that it will be 'used' often and monitored. Of course that means it might get over visited - but then people might give the natural coral a break for a bit. Not a bad idea? Working where I do I think I have come to realise that if you want anything looked after you have to give the local community some form of responsibility. The local government system should accommodate for that. The minute people have responsibility they step up to the job of protection (like some examples in east africa)...the minute outsiders come in and try to inform and 'impinge' their thoughts I have realised, the communities get lazy and think 'someone else will do it!'.
    More soon :)
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      Mar 9 2012: thanks, Asha! that's what seems to have happened with some of the GCRA's projects in the past with resorts that were more about the moment, less about the longterm and maybe no specific local group committed. I also think it's my and my team's responsibility to create a way to make monitoring and upkeep easy... part of the educational and/or scientific community so that it inspires more involvement. When we were talking about Sri Lanka, sounded like money comes, project happens, money gone, no follow through. Someone in the Bahamas was talking with me about a project that would use the arts to try to help with conflict resolution between "outsiders" who use the harbor and the locals. so they would be working together to help the area and find common focus towards peace rather than their argument.
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        Mar 9 2012: Correct - thats exactly the project most of the time. Outsiders come, make a lot of noise, implement over two years in a rushed manner and leave - leaving no plan for sustaining the project. I respect you for thinking longer term - the world needs more of that. its a challenge but its a challenge you take on when you decide to conduct a project somewhere. I also think local people are more likely to look after it if they see it. Perhaps you guys should have days when you take the local dive operators out there (pay for their dive) or something? certainly teh science of it should be simplified and taught to kids.....and how our role can be positive for a change.....anyways - its late here and i should be sleeping but this stuff is super interesting so more more more!
  • Mar 8 2012: Establishing coral beds in areas that are otherwise inhospitable to the natural conditions in which coral is usually nurtured could be a great way of providing small eco-friendly reserves to buffer the otherwise ravaged seabed. I think providing these coral islands is a great way to help connect some of the now isolated aquatic ecosystems. I hope to see more about this project, and any project aiming to reclaim some of the blighted and bruised bits of nature.
    Who knows, maybe, one day, we might find that the intrepid spirit of nature is ready and willing to take back its planet... it just needs a little bit of help.
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    Mar 14 2012: Colleen, incidentally I live near Cancun and I'm also a scuba diver. Fortunately for the Mexican Caribbean, coral damage isn't yet a big issue here compared to places in SE Asia or Australia.
    The main, global, problems for corals are temperature rise and ocean acidification. Corals, especially stony corals, have a very narrow range of tolerance when it comes to temperature and pH. High temperatures eventually will lead to the expulsion of algae (coral bleaching) that lives in synergy with the coral and lead to the coral's demise. The degree of bleaching depends on the temperature and time the corals are exposed to elevated temperatures.
    Ocean acidification so far is less a problem (yet), but lowering the ocean pH would interfere with the coral's capability to produce it's calcium skeleton on which all stony corals rely upon.
    In either case, creating artificial structures for corals can settle doesn't reduce the damage done by above (and other) mentioned environmental factors.
    The main benefit of putting artificial structures (as art or just ship wrecks) in the ocean is to provide a ground where corals can settle (they usually don't settle just on the sand floor).
  • Mar 13 2012: This is what I've managed to gather so far:

    Friends of St. Croix East End Marine Park
    5005 Estate Great Pond
    Christiansted, VI 00820


    Alexandridis, Konstantinos T
    Director of Marine & Environmental Studies

    Janice Hodge
    Coral Reef Task Force

    (340)772-3227 fax

    St. Croix Environmental Association

    I'll continue to try to find contacts and update you with them.
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    Mar 12 2012: Find this really interesting. I used to work for a NGO that is still working in Coral Reef Restoration in the Dominican Repblic. They are workin with Counterpart International and Reef Check, mainteining a "Coral Reef Garden". It really works and is a great project.
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    Mar 9 2012: i think it was Reef Check that I emailed awhile back about collaborating. at the time they said were not able to get into Haiti because of some block shortly after the earthquake..(could search the emails). I believe there are so many places that need this work, but the question that is really emerging is "how can your community maintain the sea sculptures?" I could contact everyone, and yet, how is the internal infrastructure being developed to start this process so it is more bottom up..?
  • Mar 9 2012: Hi Ms. Flanigan. I'm from the Philippines and we have some problems as well in terms of coral reef degradation. I'm not really sure which areas in our country need the most attention but you may try to get in touch with the University of the Philippines College of Science - Marine Science Institute. They can provide you with the information that you would need for your project. They can also serve as the link to other state universities in our country with marine science programs. All the best for your project! :)
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      Mar 9 2012: Thank you, April. I wonder if it is better, as Asha says above, to be invited rather than trying to "force" what i am doing onto communities? The Philippines does have big problems with reefs, yet is the government and institutions working to fund and maintain the restoration?
      • Mar 12 2012: I think if you coordinate with NGOs and academic institutions, they would be more welcoming with regards to your project, especially if they have ongoing projects that are related to it. They also get to work closely with the affected communities. It may be difficult to go directly to the communities without any local partner institution, unless you have a dedicated team of locals who can start the groundwork for you.

        As for our government agencies, let's just say it may take much longer to get feedback if you approach them first. We don't have as much funds allocated for environmental protection and restoration, plus there's a lot of red tape, so they may not be able to pay immediate attention to your proposal. If you're more keen on partnering with our government agencies, it would help to have someone process all the paperwork for you. Hope that helps. :)
  • Mar 9 2012: I'll gather the contacts and information and forward them to you. I work the weekends, so it may not be until monday or tuesday. I have a friend whom does underwater films and documentaries. I'm sure he would be interested also.
  • Mar 9 2012: I recently visited Costa Rica and was shocked to see how degraded the reefs were in Golfo Dulce near the Osa Peninsula, given that it is not a high-traffic area. The gulf is breathtaking, and there is still quite a lot of undeveloped land. Might be a prime location for reef restoration, since there might be fewer obstacles to setting up a coral reserve, particularly with Corcovado National Park nearby.
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    Mar 8 2012: I live in Puerto Rico and have been witness to the sad decay of the coral reefs that surround the island. Whether it is because of pollution, or construction, or human abuse, I have seen the beautiful coasts of this island succumb with years pass. There are many factors that can be taken advantage of here that could help support a "green" way of recovery for the reefs; for example, solar energy can be used to power up any devices.
    The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez has a struggling Marine Biology department that could use new ideas and incentives. It can be an ideal place to do your research since that particular campus is also home to a very important Engineering school. Perhaps an incentive can be created to partner up the different Engineering departments and Marine Biology, even Biology into providing a creative solution based on your idea. The university also happens to be located in the west of the island, home to amazing reefs, and the Marine Biology department happens to own an offshore island that is surrounded by some of the best coral reefs in Puerto Rico. Sadly , the reefs around Magueyes island are some of the ones being affected by pollution and human abuse. Even more, the bio-bay there is also dimming out! It is one of the very few in the whole world. I can see your project becoming a beacon of hope on that campus if people are willing to give you a chance.
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      Mar 8 2012: Thank you, Camille. It sounds like they need an infusion of financial support and curriculum refrom to start to address this kind of action. I wonder if it is the students who need to design a request to add these programs? or the professors?maybe together..
    • Mar 14 2012: Coral reefs in La parguera are in part being affected by the pollution release from ill designed sanitary tanks in the Magueyes (Marine Sciences) island off the coast of La Parguera and leaking sanitary systems from illegarl houses on the coast. Urban development and sprawl and the sediment and pollution related to ill planned land use is having an irreversible impact in one of best reef systems of Puerto Rico. We've been talking about this for decades and also making and remaking studies but we never get to management actions that effectively reduce degradation.
  • Mar 8 2012: You could try the USVI. The University of the Virgin Islands hasMarine Science and Marine Biology programs which could possibly be interested in partnering up with you. Federal funding for this type of project is probably easier down here also. We have the largest underwater national park at Buck Island which is possibly going to be expanded. This anad several areas throughout the islands could benefit from this.
  • Mar 8 2012: I live in Costa Rica and based on the maps provided here: the coral reefs in the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Park are highly threatened. Something like this would definitely help.
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      Mar 8 2012: Since it seems to be a general concensus that restoration is a good thing, I'm curious how to build the local team that maintains the projects. If i, with a team, were to create more sculptures, then it becomes a matter of ensuring that the local community is involved and feels ownership for its evolution. I think having a science leg, a community nurturing group, and the electrical engineering group, plus if it can invite more educational groups of kids, locals and tourists to envision how this is like planting trees and fostering biodiversity for the future= bigger picture progress.
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    Mar 8 2012: For your title question, I'd suggest you to look at World Resources Institute's site (, they have published very detailed reports on the state of the coral reefs all around the world, down to the specific stressors in each region.
    To protect the marine habitats, we have to go to the source of their degradation: the land. Watershed protection, urban planning and zoning as well as urban surface cover management to reduce runoffs, habitat restoration are just some approaches to address parts of this solution. Marine ecosystems cannot be considered as a separate entity. They are engulfed by the socio-economic and urban/rural characteristics of the human activities within their proximity. Therefore the whole cycles of production and waste should be tackled as a closed loop holistic system.
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      Mar 9 2012: thanks. i will check it out. i very much agree with you, Naz. And to my reply above, I now add that crucial element: the developers/planners that are so key in preventing their run-off. That is the crux when it comes to eco-tourism: making sure it is not just a publicity stunt and bringing in commitments to comply with treating the waste of hotels and buildings so that they are composted through plants and other bio-remediation. When I think of doing these projects, I would like to see policies that integrate the holistic approach you talk about, or else it can be much effort with barely symbolic impact once realized. How to get businesses to clearly see that their capital is dependent on the beauty and well-being of nature is a big issue. Do you work in this field of holistic systems?
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        Mar 9 2012: Yes, I'm an architect by background, and I'm now doing my graduate degree in sustainable design. My focus is the impacts of urbanism coupled with climate change on fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs.
        Right now, as a course-related work, I'm trying to create a watershed protection and management process and plan to alleviate the urban impacts on coral reefs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, while also focusing on issues like capacity building and job creation; trying to address both socio-economic and environmental problems within a single project. (it's just a project unfortunately.)
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          Mar 9 2012: Haiti is one place that I've wanted to connect with about putting some of these structures closer to shore so that it could attract fish and other marine organisms for food while keeping the deeper outer waters Marine Protected Areas so that other fish could grow to full size and recover their populations undisturbed. With such a huge hunger problem in Haiti, and fish being such a necessary food supply, it might help. There is a group in France that is working to populate the Biorock structures with juvenile fish so that they can quickly become open water sustainable "fisheries." I wish you the best with this project. please let me know if you meet people who are interested in creating shore structures...
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        Mar 9 2012: In Haiti, a group called Reef Check is working on coral monitoring and ecotourism capacity building. Maybe you'd like to check that out.
        I believe NOAA also has a coral reef program.
  • Mar 8 2012: There is alot of coral restoration and studeis going on in South Africa on the east coast. I saw alot of it while diving down there. Maybe try to look up dive school down that that might be interested in what you do. They have the right temperature for coral to grow. The Maldives and Thailand could use your help too! Good Luck!
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      Mar 8 2012: thanks, Beth! there have been some Biorock projects in the Maldives and Thailand..main challenge is finding the partners that want to maintain the projects once they are created, and how to build the supportive community. Do you think dive shops are the best route?
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        Mar 9 2012: what about private partnerships? big local companies? you promise to put a plaque down by the structure for them and they maintain? they can use it as greenwash - sorry i mean corporate social responsibility projects...
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          Mar 12 2012: i like idea of bigger sponsors so we can actually get some traction, but again, grassroots is often the way to set up the foundation: like here in Portland, Friends of Trees has planted thousands of trees, and it was started on a tiny branch. If we rely on one big donor, we are at risk if we lose them, so need all levels of support. With a large sponsor, the plaque idea is one option. What do you think about a monitor/camera/surveillance of some kind that streams on the web so anyone can watch the progress? Maybe the donor could have a channel that live-streams from the project.
      • Mar 11 2012: Hi, Yes - the dive schools could very well be a good route, if it was sold to them as way to promote their businesses. They wouldn't have a business if they didn't have beautiful coral. Also, I don't know a single diver that wants to see coral areas die or have them available to dive in. You could try dive shops as well as around the country and get them to do/offer eco-dive tours where people interested in diving as well as helping to save coral environments. These divers might want to go to the locations throughout the year and help in the maintenance of the project put in place while getting some diving in! I have also see the damage people have done to highly used dive areas like Egypt. If they don't do something to save the coral soon they really won't have a business. That could be a great place to start as they may have more money and interest in saving what hey know is dying and damaged. The plaque ideas is good too Asha!
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          Mar 12 2012: Beth, thanks for these suggestions. I think I need to put together some kind of packages to "sell" to dive shops, resorts, and other conservation and/or university programs. Rather than waiting for them to approach us, we need to give them some clear program to consider and lay it out. And if we reach enough people, the ones most invested and committed will emerge so we can avoid half-committed partnerships. I would love help with this part! If anyone has the business interest to join me in this area, please contact me: I was about to start a new Living Sea Sculpture website, and that needs some direction as well. I want it to invite dialogue and share what we offer to the corals and for the trend to value ocean ecosystems.