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The Man-Made Reef Project

March 28, 2013 6:17 pm

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The Reef Ball Project

Protecting the Fresh Water Supply on Pine Cay

The Meridian Club and the Pine Cay Owners successfully implemented a reef ball project in late-2012. The new artificial reef at Pine Cay, Turks and Caicos, has become a unique and favorite snorkeling and diving destination for guests.

Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems and easily fall prey to global warming, harmful fishing practices and natural weather patterns. In this particular case, the need to create an artificial reef arose when a nearby resort development opened two pathways through the barrier reef in the waters surrounding Pine Cay in order to create passage for construction materials delivery.  These dual gaps within the reef structure compromised the water flow between the islands.

The newly-opened pathways diverted high levels of water towards Pine Cay. Within months, the onslaught of saltwater to Pine Cay began to threaten the natural freshwater supply on the island by steadily increasing salinity levels. And, if the holes in the proverbial dam were not plugged soon, the fragile water lens on the island would be devastatingly compromised.

The owners association on Pine Cay undertook the costs and responsibility to re-create the reef by deploying concrete balls in both affected areas. The balls, approximately 5 feet in diameter, are made from a mixture of cement, pea rocks, sand and water and are hospitable to coral growth; the molds are grooved with small holes which provide ideal shelter and habitat for smaller fish and marine life.

Weighing almost 500 lbs each, the 200 reef balls were deployed in key areas to stem the destructive pathway of the new water flows.  Creating the artificial reef was a slow and laborious process; a balloon was inflated inside each ball allowing it to float, and then the ball was carefully towed to the drop off location.  Marine engineers positioned each ball over the deployment area and the balloon was then slowly deflated.  As the reef ball began to sink to its final resting place in the approximately 6ft of water, engineers continued to fine-tune its position.  The final reef ball was dropped in September 2012.

Now, only a few months later, the proactive actions of the Pine Cay owners association have been rewarded with restored fresh water levels, thriving artificial reefs that are ideal for snorkelers and divers, and a thoughtful restoration of a fragile ecosystem.

Nature is easier forgiven for cutting a destructive swath through the fragile coral reefs, but it’s harder to understand the motivation of those who put profit before protection. Pine Cay has a delicate ecosystem nurtured by the steady patterns of the natural world around it and the owners of this private island retreat in the Turks and Caicos archipelago take the stewardship of this delicate balance seriously.

The reef ball project has been a triumphant success for Pine Cay thanks to the vigilance and desire of the homeowners to protect what nature has worked so hard to create. The freshly restored ecosystem provides wonderful snorkeling and diving adventures for guests at this private island getaway in the Turks and Caicos Islands.