In a strategic collaboration, the Government of the Virgin Islands has partnered with the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) and the award-winning organization Rethink Rebuild Regenerating “rrreefs” to initiate a pioneering project aimed at revitalizing coastal reefs in the territory.

The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change noted that rrreefs, based in Zurich, Switzerland, is on a mission to revive 1 percent of coastal coral reefs by 2033.

Employing a combination of scientific design, engineering expertise, and state-of-the-art 3D printing technology, the organization has developed underwater modular clay reef systems.

“These systems are said to be conducive to coral recruitment and habitat for various fish species, crustaceans, mollusks and other macrofauna,” the Ministry stated.

Argel Horton, Marine Biologist and Environmental Officer at the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, expressed enthusiasm after interacting with the 3D-printed reef structure.

“Once it starts thriving, it can be replicated and integrated into our existing reef system so the Territory’s coastal defense can protect us from intense hurricanes, storms, and flooding in our critical low-lying communities. We would be the second in the Caribbean to test this system, and I’m eager to see how well it will work within our region,” Horton stated.

Measuring 20 cubic meters, the Virgin Islands’ inaugural 3D-printed reef, was produced as 254 individual bricks in Switzerland and transported to the territory in late 2023.

“The Lego-type structure was assembled on-site at Cistern Rock off Cooper Island, a popular snorkelling and dive site situated near ARK’s existing coral nursery,” the ministry added.

The realization of this ambitious project was made possible through the support of Institute Le Rosey, one of Switzerland’s leading boarding schools. Christophe Gudin, the school’s head, shared his connection to the BVI and his commitment to marine biology education.

He stated, “The changes I have witnessed over the past 20 years underwater and the importance for the next generation of leaders to grasp this fundamental issue has matched remarkably well with this project. I look forward to coming yearly helping to research the evolution of the reef with students.”

The Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) will closely monitor how the 3D-printed reef structure enhances marine biodiversity over the next two years, by recruiting coral, fish, and other marine life.

Managing Director for ARK, Dr. Shannon Gore, emphasized the global impact of coral reef degradation due to climate change and human activities.

He stated, “The design of these 3D printed bricks can be seamlessly integrated within deteriorating reefs to rebuild areas that are no longer able to protect shorelines from erosion.”

The ministry revealed that the installation of the 3D-printed reef was led by Co-Founder Marie Griesmar, Designer and Field Operator Mauro Bischoff of Rrreefs, and Dr. Gore, with support from several local companies and organizations.