Artificial Reef Building | Ships and Art

One might ask why people would take a perfectly good ship, fill it up with water, and put it at the bottom of the ocean. One might also ask why build an art reef at a resort? Irrational hatred of boats? Need to show off their sick marine-engineering skills? Slow day on Snapchat? Love of the marine environment?

Well, the answer is simple: artificial reefs work. Anyone who's ever swum through a submerged vessel knows shipwrecks are possibly the coolest thing about diving. Entire ships -- SHIPS! -- that once roamed the ocean, now consigned to the deep. You get to explore a once-functional relic, now the property of eels and sea cucumbers. Some of these vessels arrive by accident, but a good number are also deliberately sunk to become artificial reefs that divers and marine life can enjoy alike.

The same is true for art reefs at resort hotels a new trend in artificial reef building and design.

But how exactly does someone sink a gargantuan boat with precision, or build an art reef? And what goes into making an artificial reef?

One might ask why people would take a perfectly good ship, fill it up with water, and put it at the bottom of the ocean. Irrational hatred of boats? Need to show off their sick marine-engineering skills? Slow day on Snapchat?

Well, the answer is simple: wreck diving. Anyone who's ever swum through a submerged vessel knows shipwrecks are possibly the coolest thing about diving. Entire ships -- SHIPS! -- that once roamed the ocean, now consigned to the deep. You get to explore a once-functional relic, now the property of eels and sea cucumbers. Some of these vessels arrive by accident, but a good number are also deliberately sunk to become artificial reefs that divers and marine life can enjoy alike.

But how exactly does someone sink a gargantuan boat with precision? And what goes into making an artificial reef?

Step 1: Where to put it?

Two major considerations go into determining where to sink a ship or build a resort based art reef. Can the public reach it? And what will happen to the environment?

Regulations prohibit placing any artificial reef where it could damage an existing reef or the ocean floor. So before even applying for permits, choose an artificial reef company that has years of experience.

"The Reef Worlds brand is all about sustainability and the creation of new habitat while at the same time adding instant tourism revenue and excitement to waterfront resorts," says Patric Douglas CEO. 

To get a permit for an artificial reef, you have to go through the county, the state, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. It's time-consuming and arduous but the team at Reef Worlds knows the process both in the US and around the globe.

Environmental change has caused the loss of more than half the world’s reef building corals. Coral cover, a measure of the percentage of the seafloor covered by living coral, is now just 10-20 percent worldwide. The Caribbean, thought to be one of the more pristine global reef systems, has lost 80% of its coral cover in only the last 50 years.

CEO Patric Douglas notes that while scuba diving and snorkeling are a $3-billion-a-year business, most resort hotel developments don’t offer much in the way of special underwater experiences. “Many five-star resorts have one-star waterfronts,” says Douglas. Reef Worlds estimates there are 500,000 square miles of resort oceanfront with limited appeal to adventurous tourists due to rampant habitat loss.

Worse yet, these zones have suffered decades of neglect as resort developers focused on land based amenities such as water parks and golf courses.

Reef Worlds was established three years ago with the goal of working alongside resort hotels to create sustainable artificial reef systems that help reduce tourism pressures on natural reefs. Reef Worlds art inspired reefs are fully monetized discrete mini-marine “protected areas” within the resort’s own footprint, allowing them to brand the signature underwater experiences of their guests while creating and fostering regional habitat,” says Douglas.

Reef Worlds have been promoting the economic and ecological benefits of what he calls “habitat tourism,” which would give resort owners a way to monetize the waters off their beaches, while relieving some of the pressure from aquatic tourists on natural underwater reef systems that are endangered or dying.

Artificial reefs have been around for decades. Most were created with everything from sunken battleships to old tires—and most, says Douglas, are boring. “Who wants to look at a concrete triangle?” he asks. Reef Worlds designs and creates “dynamic reefs” using key regional design cues to attract sea life and tourism interest, making them places people actually want to explore, he says.

In Mexico, the company is developing an underwater art reef featuring 200 works of art that will take their cues from Mayan and Aztec iconography. Douglas calls this “Mayan Gods in 3D.”

Douglas says Reef Worlds will be able to bring in projects at 10-20% of the cost of a typical resort hotel water theme park, which can run $70 million to build and $1 million a year to market and maintain. And unlike land based entertainment facilities Reef Worlds artificial reef sites slowly transform over time into habitat for a wide range of wildlife and corals like typical artificial reef structure.

Reef Worlds most recent ’“Pearl of Dubai” project will be located in the waters around the World Islands development. Renderings suggest the park might be modeled after the mythic Lost City of Atlantis with Babylonian and Sumerian design cues throughout .

Reef Worlds has five projects in varying stages of development in Dubai, Qatar, the Philippines, and Mexico.

“Our goal over the next decade is the rehabilitation of 500,000 square miles of nearshore reefs in need of help,” says Douglas.

“Resort hotels need new revenues, the coral conservation community needs outreach and education, we offer the best both words for a uniquely sustainable future.”