The Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia is known as the world’s largest living organism, or largest structure containing living organisms. Mainstream science articles published an “obituary” for the reef in 2016, drawing some criticism for the fact that it isn’t quite dead yet.

A March 2017 paper published in Nature claims that hundreds of miles of the reef had been bleached or died throughout 2016 alone due to “high water temperatures.” It seems as if there is much debate and controversy surrounding how bad the reef’s condition is, and what is causing the condition.

In any case, the government of New South Wales, Australia has taken the opportunity to launch a project in Sydney to build a small artificial reef, to help native species thrive in Sydney Harbour.

Fish swim near Western Australia’s first artificial reef. (Photo: Department of Fisheries Western Australia and Recfishwest)

According to a statement on an Australian government website:

“A modular artificial reef will be suspended alongside the Sydney Opera House as part of a new research project exploring ways to improve marine biodiversity and increase native species in Sydney Harbour, Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton announced today.

The three-year research project, between the Sydney Opera House, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and the University of Sydney, will start by recording baseline data on fish numbers and diversity in underwater areas around the Opera House and in other harbour sites later this year. Once this surveying is complete the new artificial reef will be installed.”

According to a person who will lead the research, UTS Professor of Marine Ecology David Booth:

“Across Sydney Harbour over 50 per cent of the shoreline has been replaced by seawalls to protect infrastructure from storms and erosion.

We believe that new initiatives, such as the artificial reef that will be trialled at the Opera House, could help restore natural marine habitats and rebalance biodiversity around the harbour.”

Example of Artificial Reefs. Source: http://haejoo.com/the-south-west-artificial-reef-project-western-australia/

Mindful of government’s tendency to enrich itself at every opportunity, it would be wise to ask a few more questions.

What material will this reef be made of, and will it be healthy for the organisms that build around it? What chemicals might leech off of the material and how will that affect sea-life and people?

One article noted that it may be made from a light material that is pliable and easy to build with. A reef designer named David Lennon who was hired to work on it seemed to actually have a positive attitude and a decent amount of knowledge about the subject. He said:

“It’s about creating productive habitats and marine life and understanding how marine life use structures, it’s like making apartment blocks. We understand marine life need different entranceways, rooms, gaps to walk and move.

We’re just like underwater architects and town planners. It’s like building a city, and to have a vibrant city you need a diversity of habitats.”

While the reef designer seems to have heart, the Australian government may not. Recently, the Australian government launched a controversial project to literally give a species of fish a form of herpes in an attempt to kill off the invasive species clogging up a river. According to a past Mind Unleashed article titled “Australia to Give Fish Herpes, Annihilate Invasive Species With Biowarfare: Scientists Protest”:

“The Australian government is going to spend $11 million giving herpes to its carp population in an effort to annihilate the invasive species, inviting criticism from scientists.

It could cause “catastrophic ecosystem crashes,” constituting “a serious risk to global food security,” as researchers warned in an academic journal called Nature Ecology & Evolution.”

On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine how something could go wrong with this effort. As far as moral principles go, some people might be uncomfortable with the state taking such a central position in preserving wildlife.

And once again, the material this artificial reef is made of could very well be damaging to the environment, or it might be serving a purpose we don’t even know about. Hopefully the Great Barrier Reef will stay alive and the state won’t even feel the need to launch projects like this.

(Image credit: scubacenterasia)