Europe’s first artificial reef, at Boscombe Seafront, is now officially open. Bournemouth Reef is part of a larger redevelopment scheme to regenerate and revitalize the area. A local Economic Impact Assessment has suggested that the reef will create a value of £10 million per year, generating a huge stimulus for equipment retailing, surf training schools, accommodation and board, and creating an estimated 60 full-time and 30 part-time jobs.
The reef takes up approximately one hectare (almost 2 1/2 acres), sits approximately 225 meters (246 yards) off shore, and is built with large sand-filled geo-textile bags. The artificial surfing reef resembles a “submerged breakwater”, and not only creates surfing opportunities but, because it dissipates wave energy before it strikes the shore, it creates safer swimming areas and reduces erosion along the coast.
Bournemouth reef has already become the underwater home to sea life such as spidercrabs and cuttlefish, creating new marine habitat and increasing the richness in marine ecology in the area. Construction of artificial surfing reefs is a relatively new technology, and as such, many nations are putting in place extensive regulations restricting the alteration of coastal ecosystems.
Environmentalists have argued against coastal modification on multiple grounds, including the idea that coastlines are best left in their natural state, but according to the Bournemouth Reef site:
“The environmental implications are at worst, neutral. It’s likely that marine life will thrive on the reef and there will be no damaging effects to the beach. Although our reason for building the reef is for regeneration and leisure, expert opinion says that it may also help with coastal defenses.”
Jack Sobel, a senior scientist at The Ocean Conservancy, says “There’s little evidence that artificial reefs have a net benefit.”
The company that built the reef disagrees:
“This is mimicking the way nature has protected coastlines for thousands of years. If you put a submerged reef offshore, it dissipates the wind energy that causes coastal erosion, and does a better job of protecting a beach than rocks or concrete seawalls.” – Nick Behunin, managing director of multi-purpose reef company ASR Ltd.