Introducing the New Artificial Reef in the Netherlands

Living breakwaters along shores teem with marine life.

Apr 28, 2023
Introducing the New Artificial Reef in the Netherlands | Living breakwaters along shores teem with marine life.

Artificial reefs have been used in many parts of the world. Made from submerged subway cars or buses, or even 3-d printed, these man made structures are giving new homes to coral and other marine life. But now, there’s a new dual-purpose reef that is helping to protect the fragile shoreline in Rotterdam, Netherlands, as well.

Officially called a Reef Enhancing Breakwater, reported Wired, the underwater modular structure is made of 17 blocks that weigh 16 tons each that are stacked on the floor of the Maas River, just outside of Rotterdam. It is the first project of the startup Reefy and is designed to protect against the damage caused by large ships that go in and out of one of Europe’s busiest ports.

Reefy’s breakwater reefs
The startup was founded by Jaime Ascencio, a business development engineer in Latin America who was concerned about the loss of sand in the region's beaches that threatened the tourism industry. “If there is no sand, there are no guests,” Ascencio told Wired.

He knew about artificial reefs to provide natural breakwaters but nothing was available that was sustainable and stable enough to handle the waves. So he decided to get a masters degree in coastal engineering from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in order to learn how to develop one himself.

Ascencio co founded Reefy with Leon Haines, a marine biologist who worked on coral reef restoration projects. It took them five years of research and development to come up with the artificial reef that is being tested in the Mass river.

Building blocks
The interlocking blocks that were used to construct the reef fit together like LEGO blocks. But before the blocks could be used to construct the underwater structure, there were many tests that had to be run.

Using a Delta Fume, a deep narrow channel, at the Deltares Research Institute in Delft, the blocks were tested with the effects of hurricane sized waves. Based on the results, the Reefy researchers made a computer model that allowed them to simulate ocean wave conditions from around the world.

The model allows Reefy to configure a reef based on these conditions as well as the marine species in the area.

Home for marine species
The blocks that were used to construct the reef are designed to simulate biological growth for seafood like oysters and mussels as well as serve as shelters for fish. They fit together to form a structure that is 25 meters high and 3 meters long, according to Eco Magazine.

We need to rethink marine infrastructure and include the right conditions for letting nature thrive. It is important that water and sediments can go through breakwaters; then, those appropriate conditions will allow ecological foreshores to develop that can grow with sea level rise, Ascencio told Eco Magazine.

“The reef blocks provide this and the necessary complexity to boost life underwater. These eco-engineering solutions will be cheaper to maintain compared to traditional structures in the face of climate change.”

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Now that the reef is in place near Rotterdam, the startup along with the municipality, will continue to run tests to see if the biodiversity has increased, reported Wired. This includes testing a “reef paint” that is high in calcium and other minerals to help the oyster beds.

“The reef helps us to improve biodiversity, protect against flooding and make waterfronts more attractive with tidal nature. Close cooperation with a startup, a corporate, and a water authority gives added value for all of us. Together we will improve the nature of the river delta in Rotterdam,” Joep van Leeuwen, senior consultant urban development of Rotterdam told Eco magazine.

Working together with local municipalities, companies like Reefy can help protect vulnerable shorelines and increase the biodiversity of marine life at the same time. That is a win/win for countries battling the damage of climate change.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.