Coral reefs cover 0.1% of the ocean floor, but support 25% of all marine wildlife. The effect of humans on this precious ecosystem has taken its toll, and estimations suggest that 90% of coral reefs will vanish by 2050. Rebuilding and supporting healthy ecosystems, such as coral reefs, is one of the most crucial parts of recovery from the destructive impact humans have had on the planet, and will help to reach the goal of a sustainable future. Currently, coral restoration agencies are working hard to restore reefs and make corals more resilient to negative influence factors like ocean warming and acidification. Sadly, during our research, we learned that coral restoration agencies and organizations are often lacking the right equipment and resources to do this on a large scale and efficient way. This leads to more challenges during the outplanting process, harvesting process, and lowers the survival rate of young corals.
So we posed the question: How can the journey towards a more sustainable, efficient and simple coral restoration process be designed?
This is where Nemo comes into play, a four stage service helping municipalities and coral restoration agencies restore coral reefs in an efficient, sustainable way, with large-scale capacity. It consists of a digital platform which helps scientists to research and monitor coral reefs more accurately and efficiently. At the same time, it creates global awareness about coral reefs, from scientists to citizens. The second part is a specialized transport box. It supports corals during their relocation from the nursery site to the outplant site. It regulates the temperature of the salt water and pH value, to give the young corals the best chance for survival during their journey to the outplant site. The last piece is a collaborative drone, which has two different purposes. One function is to help scientists to monitor through 3D scanning and mapping of coral reefs, which is then fed into a global coral reef database, accessible for scientists and citizens around the world. The other function is to support outplanting processes by carrying up to 100 corals to the outplant site allowing for an efficient outplanting process where only 2-3 people are needed instead of 8-15.
Nemo is a system built up to support and accelerate the current process of coral restoration to help restoration agencies and organizations rebuild the reefs of yesterday, for a better future tomorrow.
Coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate. This is primarily due to human induced climate change, consequent ocean warming, and other human related factors, such as overfishing and pollution. Estimations suggest that 90% of coral reefs will have vanished by 2050. Coral reefs need support and help to get back to a healthy state. Coral Restoration is a process to support corals and help them regain their health and strength prior to human interference. During the process, new corals are grown to withstand warmer temperatures and become more resilient against influence factors like ocean warming and ocean acidification.
During our research, we conducted interviews with coral reef restoration specialists to gather insights. Sadly, we discovered that coral restoration organizations and governmental agencies are struggling with funding, and work primarily on a small scale. The current process is also very time and labour intensive and not as sustainable as it could be, with the use of plastic tags. Lastly, the nature of current equipment for coral restoration actually puts additional stress on young corals. During our research we identified 4 key areas of opportunity.
1. Labour Intensive
This process is very labour intensive because it needs a lot of people and is physically very demanding due to a lot of diving trips.
The current process to plant just one coral has numerous different steps, making it very complicated, time consuming and resource exhaustive.
3. Stressful for Corals
The transport from the nursery site to the outplant site is very stressful for the corals due to rudimentary methods which is leading to a reduced survival rate.
4. Small Scale
Because this process is so inefficient and labour intensive, only small scale coral restoration is possible currently. The goal is to optimize restoration work to ensure it is accessible, achievable and maintainable on a large scale.
So we posed to ourselves the research questions : How can the journey towards a more sustainable, efficient and simple coral restoration process be designed? How might we help municipalities restore coral reefs in an efficient, sustainable, and large-scale way?
The Design Process
The process behind Nemo was highly iterative and also involved a lot of people. We conducted expert interviews with Alessandra Shea who is based in Hawaii and working for the NOAA: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. We also had the chance to talk to the Coral Restoration Foundation and they explained to us their restoration process and efforts. During our process we reached to the experts to get their feedback on our concepts and ideas to verify we are heading into the right direction. Next to this we also conducted interviews with citizens from around the world to gather their perspective on a more sustainable living. We hosted creative workshops to bring in input from other designers and disciplines to broaden our spectrum. This highly iterative process led us to the result and concept Nemo.
We used a human centered design approach to help solve an environment centered design problem to allow us and many others a better future and understanding.
NEMO is a 4 stage service helping municipalities to restore reefs in an efficient, sustainable way, with large-scale capacity.
It consists of a digital platform which helps scientists to research and monitor coral reefs more accurately and efficiently. At the same time, it creates global awareness about coral reefs, from scientists to citizens. Data gathered from monitoring the reefs with the collaborative drone will feed this platform. It constantly updates and keeps a database with all the information.
Specialized Transport Box
The second part is a specialized transport box. It supports corals during their relocation from the nursery site to the outplant site. It regulates the temperature of the saltwater and pH value, to give the young corals the best chance for survival during their journey to the outplant site. These boxes either live on the transport vans or boats for easy handling. The crates which are used to mount the corals inside are universal and also used during the outplanting process.
Collaborative DroneThe last piece is a collaborative drone which has two different purposes. One function is to help scientists to monitor by 3D scanning and mapping of coral reefs. This information is used directly in the digital platform and made available for coral restoration agencies. The other function is to support the outplanting process by carrying up to 100 corals to the outplant site. During this process people can use the same crates as for harvesting for outplanting this way the system is optimized for coral survival.
With Nemo coral restoration agencies and organizations can start plating corals in a large scale way. With the system, they can plant up to 100 corals per day, with only 2-3 people necessary.
Nemo smoothes the workflow of coral restoration agencies and organizations. This way, they can focus on growing and outplanting. Instead of having 10-15 people for one outplant, agencies and organizations only need 2-3 people for one outplant round.
The main parts of Nemo are produced out of recycled plastic and intentionally shown as such. This way, Nemo is in line with the mission to support nature.
Less Labour Intensive
The system uses a combination of growing corals on pre manufactured locally recycled structures, using bio adhesive and drilling holes into the ocean floor to make the process optimized for two people.
Up to 100 corals
The system is designed so one drone can carry up to 100 corals for outplanting. This allows only two people to outplant the same amount as now 10-15 people can outplant. When the drone is used for outplanting it is connected with a cable to the boat to allow divers using a pneumatic drill. This combined with that corals are grown on prefabricated structures out of locally recycled concrete is speeding up the process immensely. This is allowing coral restoration organizations to act on a larger scale than before. By not using plastic tags for monitoring and rather glueing the prefabricated structures with bio adhesive into the ocean floor and digitally tag, the environmental impact is also reduced.
Cameras & Sensors
The drone is equipped with 3 cameras, all of them are rotatable and tiltable. The center camera can tilt the head downwards to monitor the ground while the other two cameras are monitoring the surrounding area. The drone is also equipped with a proximity sensor to detect nearby objects if it is used in an autonomous mode. During the outplanting process, the drone will capture each planted coral immediately and it feeds the information back into the digital platform. This way, coral restoration organizations have a unified system and do not have to rely on methods like putting plastic tags onto outplanted corals.
Nemo has an integrated waterjet engine system. This allows for it to move freely into all directions without any complications. Nemo can also be used as an anchor during outplanting if switched into hovering mode. The hovering mode allows Nemo to continuously use the waterjet in small doses to hold the position underwater. This allows divers to outplant without any problem and also hold onto the drone in the event of strong waves. This system makes Nemo versatile, fast and agile, even in rough conditions.
The system is built for easy handling by the coral restoration specialist. The transport box comes in two sizes so specialists can pick the size they need. In the transport box, corals are stored in crates which can be easily mounted onto the drone. These boxes live either on the boat or in a van so the only moving required between the sites are the crates in which the corals for outplanting are stored. The specialized transport boxes are designed for safety and can easily be secured in a van or on a boat.