Our oceans are under pressure. We asked what if, instead of ripping out the ecosystems that had grown on disused offshore structures, we put more in?
Common sense tells us that re-purposing retired structures into thriving ecosystems is an obvious choice, but many questions existed about their efficacy that were hard to answer without a working prototype.
The Exmouth community in Western Australia had been advocating for an artificial reef that would create additional recreational opportunities in the region by providing a fishing and diving experience for the local community and tourists in the sheltered waters of the Exmouth Gulf.
The Exmouth Integrated Artificial Reef, named ‘The King Reef’ by the Exmouth community, was installed in the waters of the Exmouth Gulf in July 2018 and is the largest purpose-built reef in the Southern Hemisphere and the first of its kind in Australia.
What makes this project so unique is the reef is partially made up of repurposed offshore structures from the oil and gas industry. We worked with our project partners NERA, Curtin University, BHP and Recfishwest to develop the special combination of materials that make up the reef design.
The reef’s construction combined 49 purpose-built concrete modules with six steel structures from a BHP operated field that has ceased production, forming the foundation of 27,000 cubic metres of new marine habitat.
Engineered reef ecosystems can support six times more marine life than surrounding reef ecosystems. King Reef, positioned on a previously sandy barren seafloor, has already seen 46 different species of fish call it home, with underwater footage showing a thriving and growing reef.
For the Exmouth community, the new reef creates an abundance of recreational fishing, tourism and employment opportunities.
“Instead of removing retired infrastructure from the ocean, let’s change the conversation. Let’s transform them into thriving marine habitats,” Matt Allen, MMA General Manager Business Development Environment & Stabilisation.
King Reef integrates offshore structures into a purpose-built reef through re-engineering and augmentation with specially designed concrete substrates. This is a world-leading marine habitat enhancement solution in a pristine environment - the Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia.
MMA managed project financing and regulatory approvals with the assistance of our key stakeholders. Then our scope was to engineer, fabricate and install the King Reef.
This project is a world-first - managing retired subsea assets and augmenting them with 58 engineered reef modules to provide the largest Integrated artificial reef in the Southern Hemisphere.
MMA lead a truly collaborative consortium including BHP, Recfishwest, NERA and Curtin University. The project was funded by MMA, BHP, the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund and NERA.
The response from the recreational fishing community has been overwhelmingly positive. Steve Riley, Western Australian fishing enthusiast and active advocate for the project said:
“I campaigned and advocated for the project for six years, knowing that a new reef in Exmouth would produce some great fishing for local and visiting tourists. With the support of the fishing club, the local community, Recfishwest and partners, our dream started to become a reality, the reef was built and deployed and now the rest is history.”
He said, “The modules were a vital part in making the reef the amazing success that it is today.”
Our solution enabled BHP to deliver a farreaching social impact and a terrific economic and tourism opportunity for Exmouth – plus in the process, we built Australia’s most abundant Integrated Reef.
Community volunteers have continued to monitor the reef since installation through a BHP-funded project called Reef Vision, sending data back to the community-based recreational fishing organisation Recfishwest and Curtin University for scientific assessment and reporting.
Two months after the reef’s deployment, volunteer videos revealed over 20 fish species on the structures. After four months, the volunteers captured over 40 fish species. In January 2020 (just under two years after deployment), volunteers recorded over 90 fish species living on the artificial reef, with a large portion being fish species popular with recreational fishers.
The reef was formed from a combination of six giant steel structures from the BHP-operated Griffin oil and gas facility that had been decommissioned and cleaned, and MMA’s concrete artificial reef modules. This included the Reef Pyramid and Bombora modules.