Bournemouth, Europe’s First Artificial Reef, Enhances Ecology and Surfing

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 Β£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.

Image: richardefreemanWaves

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.”Β  – Nick Behunin, managing director of multi-purpose reef company ASR Ltd.

Written by Derek Markham


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  1. Much of the debate over the benefits of artificial reefs have to do with the modification of existing habitat and the ‘relocation’ of species from adjacent habitats.

    While I agree that the benefit of these reefs when compared with break-walls and erosion is positive, it is still a disturbance to the natural habitat. Some studies have shown that artificial reefs appear as they are thriving while they are just relocating species from adjacent natural habitat.

    Personally I think this needs to be studied a bit more, but as a biologist and a surfer, i may forever be between a rock and a hard place.

  2. the greta global artificial surfing reef swindle strikes again, This company maintains its patent reefs are the only solution for a fixitall. Coastal engineering practice has reefs as a option for some situations where it may be best. But never ever as a catch-all solution. Only a vested interest claims its patent is a catch all solution. Due diligence and due probity always examines all the options and ranks according to certainty of delivery. Reefs in particular Artificial Surfing Reefs (ASR’s) have no track record of any sucess. All their projects have been dubious in outcome and in fact claimed to be dismal failures by many (except themselves). A simpel web search for opanake reef , mount reef, space coast reef will reveal a trail of scorched earth in results that were not there. In florida the space coast reef was examined and a claimed 4o to one benefit to cost ratio was debunked as a 0.44 to one benefit to cost in reality. snake oil anybody? or a the bournemouth surfers are saying Rogue traders anybody?

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