Aruba and Artificial Reefs –
There are a Variety of Environmental and Human Reasons for the Creation of Artificial Reefs

August 19th, 2010

"First of all, an artificial reef is any type of reef project, foreign object(s) or reef systems, which is not an original coral formation or natural coral ecosystem. These are usually made by humans for specific purpose such as promoting marine life growth or creating areas of marine growth where this is lacking or has been destroyed. Artificial reefs can also be created accidentally by sunken ships, aircrafts or due to flooding. Many man-made artificial reefs are created with a purpose, while others become an artificial reef by “accident” or because of history.

In Aruba we have several artificial reefs. The most famous artificial reef is the wreck of the Antilla, which sunk in 1940. This German vessel was scuttled by its own captain in order to prevent the ship from being taken by the Dutch marines on the island after the invasion of The Netherlands at the beginning of WWII. The vessel was anchored on the north side of Aruba and it would become one of the most famous wrecks in the Caribbean after the war. With the exception of the crew, the Antilla sank with pretty much everything on board including engine oil and fuel. In cases of intentional sinking where ships or other objects are to become an artificial reef, these are stripped, cleaned, prepared and made safely for the environment and recreational sport diving.

Besides the WWII wrecks, Aruba has several artificial reefs ranging from airplanes, ships and cargo barges, which are sunk at different depths. Artificial reefs like sunken ships or other objects can create an attraction for divers and snorkelers but with time will create habitats for coral and fish. Wherever there is a body of water, you can sink anything from an old Cadillac to a school bus in order to make it “attractive” in particular for divers. In Aruba this has an even more added value because the implementation of an artificial reef may serve several purposes. Besides these objects, many other countries have used a more eco-friendly approached to artificial reefs by installing what is called “reef ball” projects. Of course “dumping” old cars, ships, barges and airplanes can make it interesting but the reef balls will with time make the area to look and become more natural than just a chunk of metal with corals growing on it.

There are many benefits of introducing artificial reefs. They promote marine life and can be also a protection for beach where waves are “broken” before they reach the shores or beaches. This will help with beach protection and can help to prevent or minimize the beach damage by sand “washing” away and the artificial reefs are a viable option for offsetting environmental impacts. Because of the “Reef balls” design, these types of artificial reef systems can attract and support a variety of fish and marine life, which can help establishing a “new” reef fairly easy. The system is designed so that the different types of “reef balls” can be used in a variety of ways to design or build a reef in areas where there are no or little reefs or natural coral formations. The great thing about marine animals and particularly fish is the fact that they will use a new object or area immediately to create a better habitat or to find better protection from predators. The design of the reef balls allows the fish to move in so to speak in a short period of time once the reef balls have been placed on the ocean floor. By implementing the reef balls, habitats can be created for fishing purposes, relief for current overfished or overused areas, they can be used for research and because they can be arranged and moved to a certain location, they can compliment existing coral reef formations or create complete new swallow or deep water sites for snorkeling, diving and fishing.

Reef balls are designed with a concrete mixture that has a ph, which is equal or close to the sea water ph and this is one of the key ingredients to the success of the reef balls because it mimics a ideal nestling ground for coral. In the Caribbean usually the second or third week of October the corals will spawn and this is where corals reproduce by releasing eggs and sperm by the millions these into the ocean. Upon fertilization, the fertilized eggs will have to survive by not being eaten by other marine life and if they find a suitable area to nest, this can become a new coral colony. Reef balls offer a surface where the coral eggs can attach themselves, and by providing this surface, the reef balls are promoting coral nestling and coral growth surface. In other Caribbean islands many of these projects have been established and were very successful. Considering that corals grow an average of one inch or less per year. They can use all the help that they can get."