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Giving Mother Nature a Helping Hand Artificial reefs are man-made structures that provide surface area for corals and other encrusting organisms to grow while offering protective habitat for beautiful tropical fish and other prized species. In essence, they give a jump-start on nature's natural processes by supplying what would take many years of biological growth to accomplish otherwise in terms of structural formation. What are they made of? Many people think that almost anything tossed into the ocean will eventually become an artificial reef. This is not necessarily true. Lightweight debris usually just ends up back on our shorelines. Substances that are corrosive will eventually break down, usually long before a natural hardened surface can be formed around the original structure. A number of products actually leach toxic chemicals into the surrounding environ, doing more harm than good. A final consideration is aesthetics. Few people are interested in diving or snorkeling on a site that resembles the local landfill or junkyard. Today's technology advocates the use of prefabricated mold systems that utilize a concrete based product. Aside from maximizing surface area for sessile organisms and providing refuge for mobile animals, considerations for the design of these reef structures include stability, longevity and chemically balanced concrete. The Reef Ball Development Group has devised a patented fiberglass mold system for the construction of artificial reefs. Reef Balls are hollow, dome-shaped structures designed to imitate the natural reef formations. Each Reef Ball has its own unique hole sizing and placement, with the surface textured for enhancing settlement of marine life. The units are made with marine friendly concrete which has been combined with additives to create a super-strong, abrasion-resistant structure with a pH similar to ocean waters. They are engineered for underwater stability and longevity, and cause minimal impact to the surrounding areas. A New Attraction Once deployed, the Reef Ball will begin to come to life through various natural processes. Almost immediately, fish and other mobile marine creatures will migrate into this new habitat in search of safe havens. Primary growth, consisting of a myriad of marine algae, will flourish within the first few months, nurtured by the inputs and outputs of the more mobile species. Corals and other invertebrates will begin to take hold soon thereafter, creating a coraline castle for its colorful inhabitants. Each structure will be a unique creation, each array a community of individuals, and the whole environment a balance of its parts. Artificial reefs have been used for a number of purposes worldwide. With the decline of our natural coral reef systems, reef restoration has been one of the primary objectives. Other applications include using the structures to build more naturally productive and aesthetically pleasing breakwaters, or for enhancing fisheries production in a given area. Here in Providenciales, we have used them as the base mounts for our underwater snorkel trails which provide educational information regarding coral reef ecology as well as conservation ethics and stewardship for reef communities. We have now expanded our use of the Reef Ball structures to furnish an alternate snorkeling site in an attempt to divert impact pressures from the other natural nearshore reefs to allow these systems to rebuild and flourish. The Reef Ball Coalition, http://www.reefballcoalition.com/a non-profit organization, has taken the Reef Ball concept a step further. As with almost all things in this world, it costs money to build an artificial reef. The Coalition has come up with a plan that not only finances the construction of the reef, but provides the needed labor through educational programs that teach participants about the importance of conserving our coral reefs. It is in this manner that the new artificial reef is being constructed on Providenciales. The only cost to the Turks & Caicos is the use of the "Queen's Bottom" as they call it (or is it Princess Alexandria's?), where the fabricated Reef Balls are making their debut.

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