Electrified Coral Reef

A solar-powered, electrified coral reef experiment aims to help marine conservation.

The bizarre experiment rests on the ocean floor off Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports the electrified artificial reef went into operation in June, in an attempt to improve the biologically and economically critical coral reefs of southeast Florida. And early reports say oysters, algae and various fish species have established themselves among the electrified structures.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a popular spot for diving from the beach since its reefs are close to shore, approved the project six years ago as an experimental way of enhancing its offshore assets.

The town contracted with the non-profit Global Coral Reef Alliance to cement a series of curved steel rods to the sea floor, creating six cage-like structures about six feet long and four feet high, shaped like airplane hangars. A mild electric current runs from solar panels to the steel rods, helping draw from the seawater dissolved calcium carbonate, the mineral from which corals form their skeletons.

The plan calls for attaching pieces of living coral broken off by storms and other natural causes to the steel bars, allowing the electric current to help them build their skeletons. A state permit to collect the corals is pending, so the full plan has not yet gone into action.

But on the first formal inspection, detailed in a July 23 report to the town, divers from the non-profit Vone Research Inc., which installed the structure, said they found abundant signs of life. A thin but growing layer of limestone has accumulated on the steel, with various forms of marine life collecting on it. Clumps of frond oysters attached themselves to the structure, with algae growing around them. Various fish species dart around the reef.