Coral reef restoration materials
The oceans are in trouble due to the destruction of coral reefs and kelp forests, which interdependently host and feed a variety of marine plants and animals. Brenna likens both coral reefs, which exist in warm water areas, and kelp forests, which grow in cold water regions, to "a fish food bank." Without the nutrition and habitat they provide, she says, "all those huge fish that we eat globally" continue to be in serious decline for us as humans.
Coral reefs and kelp forests are being decimated through a variety of factors, which Brenna enumerates: Ocean temperatures rising. Plastics. A disease affecting coral tissue, which spread via cruise ships journeying from Florida through the Caribbean. Massive fishing trawlers in Asia scraping reefs as they dredge up any and all marine life destined for food markets.
Then there's the destruction of shorelines through property development. "California's kelp is devastated," says Brenna. "We might have 10 percent of the kelp that used to line California shorelines."
Urgent action is needed to restore coral reefs and kelp forests. "We have maybe a decade," says Brenna. (She recommends the film, Chasing Coral, to learn more about problems facing coral.)
It follows that IntelliReefs hopes to make a global impact -- helping to increase the numbers of coral reefs and kelp forests -- through its proprietary ocean floor material called Oceanite. According to IntelliReefs' website, "Oceanite is a complex matrix of minerals, developed specifically for diverse animal growth and immediate integration within local ecosystems." As a medium, it mimics the material that coral naturally grows upon.
Through the use of nanoparticles, "We've come up with a binder that holds these rocks and minerals together, and the water flows through it," says Brenna, and it "acts as a bio-filter." That means, coral is able to take root throughout the modules. And the mineral content can be adjusted for different regions: for instance, mostly volcanic rock for places like Greece and the Caribbean, with the addition of basalt for Canada and limestone for Ireland. The company has made its Oceanite material in the United States, and has big plans for manufacturing it in Canada, but Brenna sees it, ideally, as being able to be made all over the globe.
Some conservation attempts utilize Portland cement concrete, which Brenna says possesses a harmful pH for the animals (yes, coral is technically an animal). There has even been an attempt to lure coral spores onto old tires "which just decomposed into oil and grease residue," according to Brenna. But she says coral species have been attracted to Oceanite, unlike other materials, and that researchers at the University of Hawaii noted how "the coral just grew all over" its rugose surfaces. According to the company's website, IntelliReefs' work has been endorsed by the United Nations.
Brenna cites a 10-year, $100 million project ahead for Ireland, which will lay down Oceanite material near ocean-dwelling wind turbines, allowing smaller fishing vessels to reap the results of restored kelp beds. The company is bidding on a coral restoration project for the Gulf of Mexico, since coral reefs are also important for acting as "wave breaks," protecting coastlines from turbulent waves. There are similar designs for the military, which is seeking to save the islands it uses for air operations from sinking. Potential customers also include eco-tourism resorts which cater to divers, offering tourists unique vistas of underwater coral-covered architecture and sculptures.
Brenna came to reef protection after co-founding Vicon Eco Systems, a business that makes architectural cast stone. "Coral people came to us and said, 'You guys do such a great job above the water. Why in the hell aren't you thinking about oceans?'" she says. "And we just weren't."
That was 2006. Today, Brenna serves as the executive director of the educational Reef Life Foundation. And she's also the CEO of Reef Life Restoration LLC, of which IntelliReefs is a division, developing the company's proprietary Oceanite material.
Even in a polluted environment, Oceanite appears to be working, says Brenna. In one location in Sint Maarten, a marine biologist had doubts whether coral would ever be able to spawn and thrive within such a "pitiful, degraded harbor."
Brenna says, "But the coral swam to it."
Challenges: "Certainly its funding," says Brenna, who feels the United States lags behind other countries in addressing oceanic issues. "If we had started this [undertaking] in Norway, we'd be global by now."
Opportunities: Restoration of kelp forests in Canada and the United States. "Kelp is our biggest market globally," says Brenna.
Needs: An international CFO for the company. "That would be my next hire," says Brenna.