Pear Trees Show Promise as Material for Artificial Reefs, New Research Shows
New findings from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research show that sustainable materials like pear trees can be used to create artificial reefs, with encouraging results.
Our Oceans Are a Wonder of Our World
Our world is home to natural wonders that often exist in places that are not obvious to our human eyes. Underwater, fascinating flora, and fauna have existed around us for centuries and play an essential role in maintaining balance in our global environment.
Marine reefs are one of those natural wonders, home to vast biodiversity. While incredibly important to fish, crustaceans, algae, and other marine life, reefs, unfortunately, have been under threat for decades due to human activity in dredging, bottom trawling, and other disturbances to the marine ecosystem.
While the damage to some reefs has been irreversible, what can be done by humans to mitigate and increase the number of reefs is by artificially placing structures into the water to facilitate their growth.
This has been accomplished by sinking decommissioned ships into the ocean or dropping concrete and other human materials into the sea. However, the issue regarding this method is the environmental impact of falling these materials into the water.
This is why researchers out of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) began a study to determine the efficacy of using sustainable materials, specifically pear trees, and what they found was incredibly promising.
How Did the Artificial Reef Study Work?
What the researchers were aiming to understand was how effective natural materials are in creating artificial reefs for marine life. In the Netherlands, the coastline and waterways have been modified by humans for centuries, which made it an ideal location to try out their method.
They came to this method because there have been examples of reefs being created on top of natural materials like wood, as often wood would fall into the rivers to be deposited into the coastline. On this, researcher Tjeerd Boumen said, “If we look at history … wood came down rivers all the time and got spit out at sea, lots of it washed up, but lots of it sank, too. We have fossil records dating back to the Jurassic [period] about marine wood deposits and the animals that live on it, so we know that wood has been going out to sea for hundreds of millions of years.”
They tested this theory by creating 32 pyramid structures out of pear trees and depositing them 10-13 feet underwater in the Wadden Sea between the Texel and Vlieland islands. Afterward, they waited four months to see what progress had been made by the marine life in creating an artificial reef.
They ended up finding 15 different species of sessile (stationary) marine organisms living on their artificial reefs, and 24 hours later, they pulled up fishing traps near the reefs and found various crustaceans and fish.
Jon Dickson, the lead researcher and author of the paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science, said, “We were surprised at the speed that it happened, the amount of life we saw living on the trees after four months, we were expecting that after something like five years. It was incredible how fast the trees were just a profusion of life.”
How Can This Be Applied Going Forward?
In the conversation surrounding climate change and environmental degradation, reefs, specifically coral reefs, are a topic of despair and sadness for many due to the amount of damage done. There is no doubt that this fact is a tragedy that we will have to live with; however, this paper shows irrefutably that restoration projects are successful and thriving relatively quickly.
It will take incentives placed in the right direction to bring large-scale restoration projects into the fold, and governments with coastal waters are moving in that direction as climate change continues to have predictable effects on our world.
One of the things that can be noted in this research, however, is that while this method can be replicated in other areas, trees are more susceptible to degradation in their own right in warmer waters due to the presence of woodworms that feed on the material.
So, while other adaptations for those areas must be made for those potential projects to succeed, the overarching point remains. It is possible to create artificial reefs that are not only working but are sustainable as well.