17.12.2018 Christiane Stenzel
Interview mit Tom Goreau
Lehrreiches vom Experten
Interview mit Thomas Goreau - Erfinder des Bio-Rock
The history oft he biorock-technology goes back tot he 70ies: Wen did you first had the impression that this might be a worthy technology?
Wolf Hilbertz invented Biorock technology in 1976 in order to produce construction materials in the sea. At the time he called it “Mineral Accretion”, “Seament”, and “Seacrete”. In 1987 I heard about his work, experimented with it, invited him to come to Jamaica to work with me applying it to corals, and coined the name “Biorock” as a better description of the growing material we produce, the only marine construction material that gets stronger with age, and repairs itself if damaged. On our first project I put a few small pieces of corals on a Biorock structure in a severely polluted area where the corals were being killed by algae overgrowth, and found to my surprise when I came back three months later they had tripled in size, growing at record rates in a place where they should have died. Wolf and I worked on regenerating coral reefs around the world for 20 years until he died, and unfortunately we never had a chance to get back to the construction material applications.
What are the main challenges when you try to set up a Biorock technology at a new spot? Are there certain requirements (temperature, PH-value) that have to be fullfilled? Has it happen not to be possible to set a biorock technology up because of environmental degradation?
The only limitation is that we can’t work in areas with a lot of fresh water, because the electrical conductivity of water is directly proportional to salinity. We grow structures in cold water where corals can’t grow, but we grow oyster and mussel reefs there instead. We grow oysters with no mortality through the winter in freezing waters when would normally stop growing, and they have bright and shiny shells when control oysters almost all died, and their shells were chalky and dissolving due to acid water (since CO2 dissolves twice as much in freezing water than in tropical waters), so we grow reefs even under acid conditions. Of course the best results come in the best environmental conditions, but Biorock is the only method that works in the WORST conditions.
How can it be that organisms on Biorock reefs grow better, faster and are more healthy? Is it just because of the calcium carbonate?
At first we thought the main effect was making it easier for corals to grow their skeletons, but we found that we were greatly increasing settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to severe environmental stress (like extreme high temperature, mud, and pollution) of ALL marine organisms, both plants and animals, including those that have no shells. We realized that we are stimulating the fundamental natural biophysical electrical currents that ALL forms of life use to make their biochemical energy. Of course each species responds a bit differently, but they benefit with increasing current to a limit, above which benefits are reduced.
Are you still doing research about how this technology can be more effective? Could it be possible in a way to even still accelerate how fast corals are growing?
We work without funding, laboratories, and equipment, so that is a serious impediment to our research efforts! But we have found in the field that we increase coral growth from around 2 to 15 times, depending on the species and conditions. It is not wise to grow them more than 5-10 times faster than normal, because the skeletons are weaker.
What do you think about other projects trying to save coral reefs - like the one in Hawai doing experiments with so called „super corals“ by recently passed away Ruth Gates?
There are many people now propagating corals by fragmentation, old technology from more than 200 years ago that Charles Darwin knew. These work well, but not nearly as well as Biorock, only as long as water quality remains ideal. As soon as they are hit by extreme high temperatures, sediments, pollution, or hurricanes their corals die, and these monoclonal coral farms are often wiped out by disease (which they seem to be breeding grounds and dissemination points for) while Biorock corals live, but the coral breakers never report their long term results for a good reason! Ruth Gates learned about corals in the lab my family built in Jamaica. Unfortunately most serious coral researchers think that “super corals” are just hype made up to tell funding agencies what they want to hear. Our goal is not to produce a single clone of genetically engineered lab frankenstein corals to take over the world, but to preserve the complete biodiversity of coral reefs in order to allow the natural co-evolution and adaptive selection of all the species to be maintained, which we do with Biorock.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We are working on many projects all over the world to regenerate coral reefs, oyster reefs, fisheries habitat, eroding beaches, seagrasses, salt marshes, mangroves, building materials, etc. but almost all are completely prevented, delayed, or scaled down because there is no funding anywhere in the world for serious large scale ecosystem regeneration.
What in your oppinion is most challening for scientists working with coral reefs in these days (concerning climate change)?
Until we have politicians and funding agencies who are intelligent and informed, and who make saving our planetary life-support systems an urgent priority, we can expect no real progress.
Thank you very much for this short Interview.