The City of Gold Coast and the Queensland State Government, are the key stakeholders behind the world’s first floating reef, installed on the Gold Coast, Queensland. The primary goal of the Gold Coast dive attraction was to deliver an iconic, off-shore reef dive site, eco-engineered to attract bio-diverse marine life - and Wonder Reef certainly delivers.
Wonder Reef is designed to suit divers of all experiences from novice resort divers to 12m, open water divers down to 18m and advanced open water down to 30m.
This unique underwater journey offers a distinct experience that raises the profile of the Gold Coast and Queensland as a premier, unique and innovative nature-based dive destination. A detailed business case was written for the reef showing the economic activity generated by the reef will translate into $36m over 10 years. This means the reef will pay for itself in under two years of operation!
The reef is located 2km off The Spit, Main Beach on the Gold Coast in 30m water depth. The area is known for its powerful wave patterns, so our solution needed to withstand cyclonic design waves of 18.5m and 15.3 second period.
We designed, fabricated and installed nine buoyant ‘sculptural reef flutes’ individually tethered to the seafloor by reinforced concrete and steel pyramids.
The mammoth steel reef flutes will grow into living sculptures, standing 16-20 metres above the ocean floor.
They are designed to create a new ecosystem to recruit fish and serve as sustainable habitats for a diverse range of marine flora and fauna. The reef was designed using data-backed experience built on our previous successes spanning 24 ecosystem engineering projects to enhance habitat for a variety of species native to the area.
Our solution incorporated features designed to rapidly recruit marine life including fish, flora and reef invertebrates. Resembling bommies or vertical column reef outcrops, a diversity of marine life is expected within 6-12 months from installation. On bottom stability, installability, design, fabrication and stakeholder management were components to this project that were strongly considered at every step.
MMA approached large-scale sculptor Daniel Templeman to take their buoyant engineered reef idea for the Wonder Reef project and add his creative expertise. What resulted is a truly collaborative project between engineers, the City of Gold Coast and the artist for a phenomenal living artwork to be explored, discovered and enjoyed by the public.
Daniel says, “Wonder Reef is my inaugural underwater artwork, and it’s opened up a completely different aspect of my work. Working underwater provides the opportunity for people to interact with the sculptures in a totally unique way. Explorers of the reef are unconstrained by gravity and that opens up new dimensions for me as an artist!
Sculptors always consider work in 360 degrees, but this project takes it even further as divers will view the living art reefs from all angles - above, below and also through! The mammoth steel flutes are designed to enable divers to explore inside the reefs swimming through them in an upwards spiral, to get up close and personal with the intricate flora and fauna on their journey.
Most importantly, we designed Wonder Reef to be a living ecosystem that evolves over time as the flora and fauna communities develop and take centre stage - eventually, the sculptures become one with nature.”
Daniel’s portfolio of public art includes the Three Rings at Olympic Sports Park, Suzhou, China, Confluence at Brisbane Magistrates Court and Hyphen at the border at Tugun. He’s always been fascinated with gravity and his art often stands in defiance of it, which is why he was perfect for the Wonder Reef project. Wonder Reef explores ideas of weightlessness, buoyancy, ecosystem and space to create a truly unique experience. Wonder Reef is an inspirational and immersive adventure akin to hot air ballooning underwater.
The nine buoyant flutes were tethered to the seafloor by massive 72Te Reef Foundations which secure the reef in storms whilst providing habitat for reef-associated fish species and a deep dive experience down to 30m.
We contracted Core Marine to carry out hydrodynamic modelling of the structures to consider every detail, from the amount of ballast to the buoyancy and tethering length to ensure the dynamic sculptures can safely withstand the 18.5 m cyclonic wave conditions.
Safety and environmental considerations are also of the utmost importance to all project stakeholders. The team considered the enduser experience so vessels can safely be moored alongside the reef and divers of all experience levels can access the attraction at different depths.
We used Wagners’ Earth Friendly Concrete® for the 310m3 of concrete used in this project which successfully reduced the carbon footprint of Wonder Reef by close to 100 tonnes – equivalent to what 95 acres of forest would absorb in a year.
Key Equipment / Installation Method
Working offshore on the Gold Coast is a challenging environment. The Gold Coast is called “Surfers Pardisee” for a reason! Installation windows between swells are few, so the operation was carefully planned by our engineers down to the minute. Each reef flute was designed to be lifted as a complete assembly so that they were cyclone safe immediately following set down. MMA designed a hydraulic release shackle mounted on the 600Te Shearleg Crane Barge to enable a remote diverless release.
MMA Innovation / Value Added
Innovative engineering fused art with nature to ensure the living sculptures, designed by MMA for the City of Gold Coast in collaboration with Daniel Templeman, created one of the world’s most epic, must-see dive holiday destinations.
“The attraction will be educational as well as recreational - almost giving the feeling of swimming through a mystical marine forest,” said Doug Treloar, the Consulting Engineer for the City of Gold Coast from engineering firm Cardno.
“It’s the first time engineering of this nature has been used for the tourism industry rather than oil and gas. In-depth analysis of marine movement was required to ensure the ultimate safety of the divers as they swim through the underwater sculptures.”
Wonder Reef is built on MMA's proven expertise in engineering with nature to build thriving marine ecosystems. Over many years we have experimented and refined our reef designs to maximise the benefits provided to the marine environment. In turn, this enables ocean communities to thrive in harmony – including diverse marine flora and fauna, dive visitors, marine scientists, research institutions and local economies.