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Why We Choose IntelliReefs Over Concrete

IntelliReefs (a division of the company Reef Life Restoration, LLC) has developed and tested an unprecedented nanotechnology substrate that can be cast in any design and scaled up larger than any competing restoration substrate on the market. Twenty years of research and development have yielded "Oceanite" — a proprietary, unique mineral mixture that allows for artificial reefs to be fine-tuned and customized down to the nanoscale to support site-, species-, and function-specific conservation goals.

IntelliReefs creates large-scale, biomimicking artificial coral reefs to increase biological and economic resilience, biodiversity, and available habitat. IntelliReefs uses biomimetics to inform the development and deployment of bio-enhancing, sustainable artificial reefs. Biomimetics allows one to mimic biology or desired biophysical and chemical properties from the nanoscale to the macroscale. IntelliReefs uses novel developments in nanomaterial cementitious research and technology to alter the surface morphology, chemical composition, and mineral structure of ocean infrastructure.

With the rise of global CO2 emissions, ocean warming and acidification have degraded every coral reef on Earth. IntelliReefs is currently developing enhancements that can be applied on or adjacent to Oceanite that aim to mitigate the bleaching and ocean acidification by providing refuges for affected reef species to settle. Read more about the biological benefits of Oceanite here.

What Makes Oceanite Different from Concrete?

IntelliReefs listened to nature in the design of Oceanite mineral mixtures. Oceanite substrates are chosen to enhance the growth and development of desired species and can be completely customized to site and function.

Thriving ocean systems demand a diverse set of habitat requirements, and the physical properties of regular cement substrates cannot accommodate these marine organism needs. Oceanite is a complex matrix of minerals, developed specifically for diverse animal growth and immediate integration within local ecosystems. It is composed of proprietary marine mineral matrices that include high-grade limestone, aragonite, and diverse pozzolanic (calcium binding) components at the nano-scale. Oceanite was formulated from 20 years of nano-materials expertise in collaboration leading marine conservation laboratories to address the most pressing restoration needs in the ocean. Oceanite substrates are engineered for centuries of durability in harsh marine systems.

Traditional marine concrete or enhanced eco-concretes cannot be pervious and retain structural integrity in an ocean ecosystem. Oceanite is produced by activating reef-mimicking nanoparticles in a large mineral aggregate. This prevents leaching of toxins into the surrounding ecosystem, enhances durability, and allows for a completely porous, biogenic substrate. Results from our joint flagship project in Sint Maarten with IntelliReefs and the Nature Foundation Sint Maarten have shown that Oceanite has great potential for enhancing biodiversity relative to degraded adjacent reefs, deterring unwanted algal settlement and bio-fouling, facilitating coral recruitment, providing of food and shelter for fish, and water filtration through increased colonization of filter and suspension feeding species within Oceanite’s porous interior matrix [manuscript in preparation].

IntelliReefs scientists use specific growth-enhancing minerals depending on target species to mimic the complexity and diversity of compounds found in natural ecosystems. The extensive system of pores produced by Oceanite mixtures optimizes animal settlement, creating more surface area per square inch. This creates a living substrate that enhances biodiversity and protects early growth stages of marine species, and is unparalleled in marine construction materials. Oceanite mixtures and designs are also engineered to optimize strength and durability and can withstand marine storms and conditions for hundreds of years. Together, these two features make Oceanite the ideal substrate for capturing and growing wild coral spawn and farming coral fragments and transplanted colonies.

Goatfish resting on Oceanite substrates 1 month after deployment in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten.

Unlike concrete, Oceanite is designed to enable precision control of pH values, surface chemistry, and texture to attract target marine species and enhance the growth of calcareous organisms, such as crustose coralline algae (CCA), shellfish, and corals. Portland cement has an approximate pH of 12 and has been observed to irritate and even burn animal’s tissues. Oceanite mixtures can currently attain a pH of 8.1 – roughly the same as the surrounding seawater. This prevents injury and irritation to marine life and promotes rapid, long-term, and healthy growth. Read more about the biological benefits of Oceanite here.

In the global market, scalability, durability, bio-promotion, and cost have limited the success of artificial reefs for conservation of coral reefs. Solutions that are complex and require a high amount of engineering, such as 3D printing, are too expensive to address coral decline on a regional scale. Additionally, the binding agents used in 3D printing are still derived from Portland cement and can be toxic to marine life. Many of these small, intricate solutions also cannot withstand harsh marine conditions on meaningful ecological time scales. Corals grow over decades and centuries on natural substrates, but many structures made from metal, traditional concrete, and ceramic would be unable to support corals for the entire duration of their lives.

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