Jan 11, 2023 - News

Military-funded project tests hybrid reefs as defense tool in Florida

A rendering of manmade coral reef barrier structure.

UM researchers are developing hybrid coral reefs like this one, which will be tested off the coast of Miami Beach. Rendering courtesy of Daniela Jalfon

University of Miami researchers are developing a new tool to fight coastal flooding: hybrid reefs that combine concrete and coral to weaken the force of ocean waves.

Why it matters: Most of the world's coral reefs are dying off due to climate change. That threatens coastal communities, where reefs offer protection from flooding and erosion by breaking down waves, the Miami Herald reports.

  • It also puts the military at risk, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, which is funding the UM research in the hopes that hybrid-reef technology could someday protect bases like Navy Air Station Key West.

Catch up fast: UM researchers received an initial $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department's research arm last June to work on the project, called Reefense. It'll be completed in three phases over five years.

  • Teams from Rutgers University and the University of Hawaii also received funding to participate in other parts of the Reefense project.

The big picture: UM marine biology and ecology professor Andrew Baker, who's a principal investigator for the project, told Axios that while the grant is funding research specific to military bases, the hybrid-reef technology can potentially be used in coastal areas across Florida.

  • "The potential is so much greater than that," he said. "If you're not gonna try it here, where would you try it?"

How it works: The hybrid reefs will be built on a base of hollow, stackable concrete blocks that are full of holes to maximize the wave energy they can absorb, the Herald reports.

  • Researchers will then place a combination of lab-grown and nursery-raised coral on top of the concrete structure, Baker said.

What they're saying: Baker said that his research will also attempt to biologically engineer more heat-resistant coral, including through selective breeding.

What's ahead: UM researchers plan to install and test two 20-foot-long hybrid reefs off Miami Beach near 80th Street later this month, the Herald reports. It's not technically part of Reefense, and is funded through a separate grant from the city of Miami Beach and the university.

  • In May 2024, the Reefense team will install a 160-foot hybrid reef off the coast of the Key West Navy base.

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