IN THE NEWS | Oceanit Partners on $9M NOAA Grant to Restore Coral Reefs

Press Release, RiSE

Honolulu, HI April 25, 2023 | Oceanit’s RiSE team is part of a new coral reef restoration project that will build coral nurseries off Oahu’s iconic Waikīkī Beach. Led by Conservation International, the “REEFrame” project is a partnership that includes the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Oceanit, the Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources, Natrx, and workforce development nonprofit ClimbHI.

The REEFrame team will receive $9 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Habitat Conservation to restore the severely degraded coral reefs near Waikiki via permanent coral nurseries on 3D-printed concrete reef frameworks. The project will run for three years, completing in mid-2026, and will build off coral reef research already underway at University of Hawaiʻi’s labs, Oceanit’s RiSE team, and elsewhere.

Oceanit has been active on projects covering coral restoration, reef habitat construction, and coastal erosion mitigation since the 80s, and currently are working with U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on project CORAL: Carbon-negative Ocean Reef for Aquatic Life.

Oceanit’s CORAL project with DARPA is working towards the creation of biomimetic reef habitats from carbon-neutral concretes, potentially using 3D printerenabled techniques to establish and promote coral growth, and to restore fragile marine ecosystems. Sustainable, carbon-neutral/negative concrete alternatives could be the “blue-green” option to replace “gray” coastal infrastructure and be used to foster reef regeneration and wildlife diversity.

The use of biomimetics, or biomimicry, means drawing inspiration, and taking lessons, from the natural world to better inform how our engineers can design to solve critical global problems, such as coral habitat loss, sea level rise, and the resulting coastal erosion and other hazards.

“Many reefs in the region are now so degraded that there is little living coral, collapsing to the point where they no longer provide shelter for fish,” said the REEFrame science lead Mark Hixon from UH Mānoa’s School of Life Sciences.  “Unfortunately, many reefs around Oahu and other highly populated Hawaiian Islands now have few parrotfish and other seaweed eaters. Our reefs are in danger of being lost to ocean warming unless we help them recover with these interventions.”

Oceanit is responsible for the implementation and deployment of REEFrame: conducting engineering assessments for the coral nursery design, completing all environmental assessment work, developing the engineering plans for REEFrame’s construction, managing permitting, and finally leading the installation of the coral nursery in the ocean off Waikīkī.

“Oceanit will bring decades of coastal engineering and ecosystem experience, combined with deep science and technology capabilities, to deliver new ideas, technologies, manufacturing and deployment methods to the problem,” said Oceanit President and CEO, Dr. Patrick Sullivan. “We see an opportunity to upgrade techniques that deal with coastal ecosystems that have been locked in old practices and paradigms. The new methods and materials available today present an entirely new tool set to deal with coastal and ecosystem impacts. This gives us optimism on how we deal with climate impact to precious coastal ecosystems moving forward.”

Success of the NOAA REEFrame work will have profound implications on scaling the approach from Hawai’i to the world – 70% of which is covered by ocean. REEFrame could serve as a blueprint for restoration projects around the Hawaiian Islands, where corals are being impacted by runoff, sea level rise, sunscreens and other chemicals, intensifying storm events, and more.

“If we want to save Hawai’i’s disappearing beaches, we must do more to save our dying coral reefs,” added Dr. Mike Foley, Sr. Coastal Engineer at Oceanit. “Think about it: Where does all that beautiful white beach sand come from? It’s a gift from the ocean and without a healthy reef ecosystem, I’m afraid we will never reverse the trend of beach loss in Hawaiʻi. This project is an important step forward in how we sustain our precious coastal environment for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations.

Since the 1980s, Oceanit’s RiSE Team have been on the cutting edge of resilient and sustainable engineering. Their work has included research on engineered ecosystem and habitat design, using sustainable materials, diverse surface textures, and biomimetic geometries. The team is excited to bring a disruptive innovation methodology to the project, working to solve environmental problems with far more than traditional civil engineering techniques.