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The Coral Goddess: Underwater Art That Is Part of a Living Breathing Coral Reef Restoration Project

When you think of Bali, you don't typically think of coral reefs decimated by impoverished fisherman practicing dynamite fishing, a method of exploding small bombs under the water to stun fish from the shock waves and easily scoop them up. Nor does one normally think about cyanide fishing, whereby fisherman use cyanide poison to stun fish so they can be sold live for use in tropical aquariums and also for food. In the process the cyanide kills the coral reefs, a natural living, breathng ecosystem which sustains marine life.

I learned these devastating fishing methods are still practiced in parts of Asia, Indonesia and the Phillipines when I discovered the magical and literally transformative underwater sculpture, The Coral Goddess, located in in Pemuteran, Bali. The Coral Goddess sculpture rests on top of, and is part of, an exciting experiment to repair decimated coral reefs with Bio-rocks, a technique by which coral is literally grown on underwater metal frames (see pic below).

Coral that breaks off reefs can be salvaged and restored if the pieces can somehow be reattached. When a metal frame is hooked up to a low-voltage energy source, limestone, an essential building block of coral reefs, attaches to the metal creating a new living, healthier reef.

Young corals take time to permanently attach to solid substrate ( similar to a plant rooting in the soil) so loose baby corals were collected and attached to the lotus flower framework that the stone female goddess sits within.

The Bio-rocks are grown via a process called "electrodeposition of minerals in sea water" known as "Mineral Accretion Technology " and was developed by Architect, Marine Scientist, Prof. Wolf H. Hilbertz. In 1988, Prof. Wolf H.Hilbertz began collaboration with Coral Ecologist, Dr. Thomas J. Goreau, of the Global Coral Reef Alliance in research and development of Bio-rock with a focus on coral propagation, preservation of corals, and coral reef restoration. Demonstration projects conducted at a number of locations around the world have involved the grafting of salvaged coral fragments to Bio-rock reef structures.

The Coral Goddess’ sculpture in Bali was designed by Celia Gregory and installed in 2001. Inspired by the local culture, it was blessed during a traditional Balinese ceremony, the holy water collected from several important temples including Melanting and Pulaki which the local community believes gives her the power to protect the seas and those that live within it. The underwater Bio-rock art installation is a nursery for fish and coral which can repopulate the surrounding area.

Young corals take time to permanently attach to solid substrate ( similar to a plant rooting in the soil) so loose baby corals were collected and attached to the lotus flower framework that the stone female goddess sits within.

Coral reefs are sometimes called "rainforests of the sea" and, while only a small part of the vast oceans, provides a home for 25% of all marine species and are a vital, integral part of the marine ecosystem. Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems and are very sensitive to water temperature. In addition to the harm done by blast fishing and cyanide fishing, reefs are under threat from climate change, oceanic acidification, sunscreen and urban and agricultural pollution i.e. runoff from land.

What's really cool about The Coral Goddess Bio-rocks project is it invloves the whole local community, creates a dynamic sculpture of natural beauty, and helps create responsible tourism while healing the underwater ecosystem which local fisherman rely on.

There are 40 metal structures growing coral in Pemuteran Bay. All have cables laid to feed them with electricity. But only about a third of the wires are working because of maintenance problems and the cost of running them. The Coral Goddess is the first Bio-rock (which requires a gentle electrical current) structure to be powered by a green energy source. Two solar panels and marine breeze wind turbine power the underwater sculpture.

Hopefully, all of the Bio-rock sculptures will be powered by green energy and more Bio-rock reefs will be created in collaboration with artists so the coral reefs can be brought back to health in all their splendor.

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