SME builds reef to help protect endangered species

ARC Marine aims to protect the UK’s indigenous white-clawed freshwater crayfish population from extinction with their first custom-built reef structure at Vobster Quay, an inland water site and former quarry, near Radstock, Somerset.

The small Torbay-based company, who were given a starting loan by Virgin Startup, design and build artificial reefs that can block illegal fishing trawlers, provide a protective marine habitat for endangered and declining species, boost the stocks of overfished species and protect coastlines and underwater habitats from erosion.

ARC Marine is funding its world-first operation through a crowdfunding campaign, and chose the reef’s site due to its close proximity to Bristol Zoo, with whom they are collaborating in this joint effort to regenerate dwindling numbers of the globally-protected crayfish species.

Due to habitat destruction and the introduction of an aggressive and invasive US breed, the white-clawed freshwater crayfish is at risk of becoming extinct in the UK within 20-30 years.

“Artificial reefs can be very useful in enhancing marine life, but also double up as anti-trawling devices.” said Dr. Nicholas Higgs, Deputy Director of the Marine Institute at the University of Plymouth’s COAST lab facility, undertakes tests on various structures built for a marine environment.

“Firstly, they provide structure by concentrating fish and nutrients around the reef, creating a whole ecosystem. They also prevent fishing in that area as these big structures stop ships towing fishing and trawling gear through the area.

“The ARC modules provide increased habitat complexity. By providing that living space, you should be able to increase the amount of crayfish that can live in habits like quarries and man-made water bodies.”

Currently, only 4% of the world’s oceans are officially protected, according to WWF. A study published in the Nature journal found that 93% of CO2 is stored in algae, undersea vegetation and coral, highlighting the crucial need to prevent marine degradation in order to protect the earth’s atmosphere.

Overfishing is also an environmental problem in both the UK and abroad. 53% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% are over exploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, according to WWF. At this current rate, research from scientists and ecologists shows that all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.

Tom Birbeck, co-founder of ARC Marine, is confident that the company can be a UK leader in reversing this trend by setting an example with its own ocean conservation efforts. His decision to choose crowdfunding over commercial sales or grant funding aims to reflect the nature of the problem his company is trying to solve.

“Oceans and waterways belong to everyone so the responsibility of marine conservation, and the challenge of reversing ocean degradation, is one that we all must collectively tackle,” he said. “We hope that at the end of this campaign people will see what we see. Not just the critical condition of the world’s oceans, but a viable solution to the problems shown here.

“We’re giving the crowd the power to rebuild and protect our delicate marine environment for generations to come with a 500+ year project lifespan. There is no pledge like it in the history of crowdfunding”.

ARC Marine was formed in June 2015 to develop specific products to aid the rehabilitation of damaged reef sea-beds that would last longer than ships (which have previously been used to create artificial reefs). It then began developing design prototypes including artificial reefs and sea grass habitats.

The company has created the world’s first multi-functional artificial reef solution. With a strong, modular design, its reef systems protect against depth trawling, provide a superior marine habitat, can act as a robust anchor point for cages and buoys, and can protect marine structures and coastlines against underwater currents and erosion.

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