Waste plastic to become artificial reefs

Praseeda Nair
Filed on June 10, 2011

DUBAI - Artificial reefs made from recycled plastic could be the answer to sustaining marine life along Dubaiís coastline, following the success of prototypes implemented in tide-damaged areas in Fujairah.

These reefs are to be placed in the ocean, in lieu of the actual coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf that have disappeared during the past decade of construction, land reclamation and natural weather fluctuations. The reefs, a first in the world, according to its creators, are placed in accordance to the Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) guidelines in a marine protected area.

“What we want to do is turn a negative situation into something positive. By collecting waste plastic that would otherwise end up in the desert or get blown into the ocean, we want to turn it into a part of the environment,” said Gerry Sherard, Sales and Marketing Manager at Eco Plastic’s partner company, Ecosol.

Years of research around the world indicate that artificial reefs help increase and sustain the diversity of fish, coral, sponges, and other marine life, as seen in deep sea shipwrecks that host hundreds of marine animals in their cavernous body. Materials used in cars and airplanes have also been used to help build artificial reefs, by lowering them into the ocean and allowing them to become subsumed as part of the natural environment.

The hard surfaces of these structures provide areas for barnacles, oysters, sponges and corals to attach, which in turn provide shelter and a food source that attracts other marine life. After working with Eco Plastic for the past 16 years, Sherard has seen the way the Emirati company embraces the negative quality of plastic for the better. “Plastic never rots, which is why plastic waste threatens the lives of animals in the sea and desert. What we do is use this negative quality of plastic in a way that can help marine life.

These reefs will never rot or be destroyed because of the durable nature of plastic.”

The man-made coral reefs that were tested off the coast of Fujairah demonstrated that in the short span of about two weeks, fish and other sea creatures had already started acclimatising to the foreign objects, embracing it as part of the marine environment.

With time, plant life and coral will start to grow around the plastic moulds, allowing for a new ecosystem to flourish. According to Sherard, underwater cameras will be placed to monitor the efficiency of these reefs so necessary changes can be made to the design and structure over time.

The next step for this local company is to get more children involved in their projects.

“We want to give people a reason to want to recycle. Seeing how their waste plastics have been turned into something useful for underwater life gives a sense of responsibility and pride to the children. Being able to monitor these reefs through underwater video footage makes it fun for them, and hopefully this will give them a sense of accountability, that their actions make a difference,” Sherard added.

Making up the majority of the planet’s ecosystem, the oceans of the world are responsible for regulating the earth’s climate, providing resources such as food and minerals, not to mention inspiring generations of artists with its inexplicable beauty. Yet, around the world, tropical marine ecosystems are becoming increasingly threatened due to overexploitation and global overpopulation, an issue that is brought to light every year on June 8. The idea of a day devoted to celebrating and protecting the oceans of the world was first suggested in 1992 and unofficially celebrated until 2009 when the United Nations declared June 8 as World Oceans Day.

This year’s theme for World Oceans Day is ‘Youth: The Next Wave of Change,’ as a way of getting children involved in this global campaign for celebrating and conserving the underwater world.

Atlantis, The Palm, is home to more than 65,000 marine animals as the largest open-air marine habitat in the world. Naturally, the care and maintenance of Dubai’s marine ecosystem features greatly in Atlantis’ corporate social action.

The resort has partnered with Eco Plastic Industries in their “Trash to Homes” project involving these artificial reefs, providing the recycling company with waste plastic over the past year. Atlantis launched a campaign on Wednesday, inviting children to bring in two bagfuls of recyclable plastics in order to win free admission into the hotel’s famous Lost Chamber underwater maze.

“World Oceans Day provides us an opportunity to create the awareness of how all of us can contribute to preserving the ocean’s habitat and its marine life for the future. It is important to reach out and educate the youth of today to understand how their daily actions will affect the future environment of the oceans,” Steve Kaiser, Vice President of Marine Science and Engineering at Atlantis, The Palm, said.

Activities, shows, presentations and displays to be held on June 11 at the Lost Chamber aim to entertain and educate children on the importance of recycling and the immediate impact their actions have on the marine ecosystem.

Children will also have the opportunity to interact with starfish and pencil urchins, both found in local Arabian waters, as well as other animals like horse shoe crabs, the spiders of the sea.

No waste from waste

Headed by Emirati father and son team, Abdul Hamid Khoory and Ahmed Khoory, Eco Plastic has been in the recycling business for 27 years.

The ‘unsung hero’ of the company, General Manager and Head Engineer Aloysius Manuel, still overlooks and approves the designs of every product made by Eco Plastic.

The company follows a ‘no waste from waste’ policy, utilising all the materials they are given in every project they undertake.

The recycling process:

u Plastic rubbish, from toothbrushes to car bumpers, are cut up into flakes

u These flakes are heated and mixed together until they form a thick mouldable solution

u The solution is poured into various moulds (from feed bins for horses to flower pots or mugs)

u The moulds are cooled in water After two years of rigorous testing, the plastic end products have been approved as safe for animal and human use.

u Some of the products made by this process include furniture, paddocks for horses in the Royal Stables, and fences, as an alternative to wood.

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