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MARS – Modular Artificial Reef Structure

MARS is a modular artificial reef structure that creates reef habitat for tropical and temperate marine ecosystems.

  • Nine-unit MARS structure

  • Designed for current to flow

  • Diver deployment

  • Four month growth

  • Shrimp taking refuge in protective space

What it does

MARS is a modular artificial reef structure that creates reef habitat for tropical and temperate marine ecosystems.

Your inspiration

MARS has been designed to help mitigate the damage that modern human activity is having on our reef ecosystems. Population growth, climate change, pollution, destructive fishing practices, increased water runoff and dredging are just some of the many contributing factors leading to the quick decline in our marine ecosystem’s health. I have been fortunate to travel to dive destinations around the world where it is virtually impossible to dive a reef ecosystem and not witness the damage inflicted by humanity. Whether it’s a clumsy tourist bumping off a piece of stag horn coral on the Great Barrier Reef or the gaping holes inflicted by dynamite fishing in the reefs of the Philippines, our impacts are constantly present. Coral reefs are some of the most bio-diverse and uniquely fragile eco-systems on the planet, and are consequently suffering the quickest and most drastically from our human expansion. Ironically those who contribute the least to these global pressures are the ones who are suffering the most. Many island communities, who rely on the health of their coral reefs for food, are finding that rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and commercial fishing operations are devastating the reefs that they depend on. An existing tool to help repair these areas is to create durable underwater structures that act as building blocks to help repopulate the reef’s biomass. When a reef system is damaged it can take decades for corals to re-grow to their previous heights but with the help of an artificial reef, this process can be sped up. The issue however with many existing artificial reef products is the scale and complexity of the implementation process. The required machinery is expensive and inefficient, as well as inaccessible for many communities. Many artificial reefs do not provide adequate material and surface design to encourage the natural colonisation of organisms leaving the reefs devoid of corals, sponges and seaweeds. MARS reinvents the artificial reef as a modular system that can be easily manufactured, easily implemented and tailor made for a majority of applications.

How it works

MARS is an affordable modular artificial reef structure that can be deployed from small boats and implemented by divers completely eliminating the need for heavy-duty machinery, drastically reducing costs. The individual units are secured together using a clamping mechanism allowing the structure to be customised to match the features of the sea floor creating a stronger and more natural reef system. For example, in coral reef areas that have experienced dynamite fishing, the MARS units can be used to rebuild the damaged areas mimicking the height and width of the lost reef. This would immediately create extra habitat for fish and over time provide the structure for corals to colonise and regrow. The surface of each unit is designed with unique indentations that give the very first colonising organisms protection from predators when they are most vulnerable. The indentations are shaped specifically so that predatory fish cannot fit their mouths into the space to feed on the organism. Once the organism has a solid hold on the surface it can flourish and grow beyond the safety of the indentation. This design theory is applied on a larger scale in between each arm where protective shields create a sanctuary for juvenile fish and shrimp. The indentations also provide ideal holds for manually transplanted corals. Each unit combines ecologically receptive ceramic with the strength and durability of concrete and composite rebar to create a structure that can withstand violent ocean conditions and harbor ecosystems. MARS provides the foundations to rebuild and recreate both tropical and temperate reef ecosystems and is another tool among many for the fight to sustain the world’s ocean habitats for future generations.

Design process

During the early stages of development multiple material samples were tested in both tropical and temperate environments to gauge which material would harbour the highest levels of ecology. Multiple types of concrete and ceramic were tested over a 12-month period with ceramic wielding the most promising results, especially for coral transplanting. Slip casting was explored as an economical solution to mould the ceramic but would still require concrete reinforcement inside the hollow form to guarantee strength. This lead to multiple prototypes tested by divers to analyse the logistical issues of deployment and implementation by hand. Final material prototypes were also deployed and monitored for 3 months to scrutinise the strength of the materials and joining systems. Design of the complex surface was developed in consultation with Sustainable Oceans International who provided critical information on the importance of protective space and surface complexity. This growing partnership with SOI has developed into the culmination of a new company called Reef Design Lab where we are currently developing the MARS system as well as a majority of other modular based artificial reef solutions. MARS is also currently being used to assess the ecological suitability of large-scale artificial reef projects within two areas of Port Phillip Bay and have been submerged for nearly 8 months.

How it is different

Future plans


MARS won the graduate prize for Best Product Design from Monash University and won the Hills Young Australian Design Award for Sustainability 2014.

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