In 2006, driven by an insatiable desire to purify water through the creation of oyster reefs in my native New York, I traveled halfway around the planet to Indonesia to study under the late, great Wolf Hilbertz. Hilbertz, I had heard, had developed a miraculous reef restoration technique that created self-repairing reefs/beach breaks that provided a sustainable fishing habitat and filtered water with coral and tropical waters and oysters in temperate waters. Since one oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day, I was smitten. Not only that, his technique did not use plastic or concrete and the negative ions seemed to bolster the health of corals and oysters ravaged by global temperature rises, pollution and disease. Hilbertz was creating reefs by perfecting an accreation process originally developed in the mid-19th century by the inventor of the DC battery, British scientist Michael Faraday, who noticed a fluffy white precipitation when running electricity through water. This white fluffy substance, if grown properly, creates calcium carbonate – the substance that coral and shell are composed of – three times the strength of concrete, and the favorite substrate for both coral and oyster larvae to colonize for reefs worldwide. While I was studying in Gili Trawangan, an island with no fresh water supply and a single dirt road, I learned how to create the best shapes for reefs, maximizing water flow and also not getting destroyed by large waves and typhoons. I also learned how to make the perfect anode, how to scuba dive for broken shards of coral that would otherwise die and affix them to our structures, and most of all the importance of working in tandem with local communities to restore and preserve their depleting wild life, which for many of them was a staple for life, as they are fisherman. Wolf is pictured in this blog wearing his accreated shirt on our last night. He accreated this shirt in the 1970s in the Gulf of Mexico and only wore it on special occasions. We stayed up late that night with our group, sharing drinks and visions. The next day when I was about to jump on a small boat for the mainland of Lombok, Wolf gave me one of his great bear hugs, looked me in the eye and said “Go for it, kiddo.” I knew then, I had officially become a member of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, which, with Wolf’s passing in 2007 of stomach cancer six months after meeting him, has been an awesome responsibility. I am the only one in my region licensed to create reefs using Wolf’s patented biorock technique, however I am licensed to build reefs all over the world. For the past four years I have taught at the New School for sustainable reef restoration where I teach about this concept as well as other sustainable reef restoration methods that do not use plastic or concrete.
So far, I have set up experiments at New York/New Jersey Bay Keeper, the River Project, The Cornell Marine Exchange, as well as built the first ever solar-powered biorock oyster reef in College Point, Queens with the director of the Global Coral Reef Alliance and Wolf’s longtime partner, Dr. Tom Goreau. With the Global Coral Reef Alliance, I have also shown my reef designs for beach breaks at the United Nations in conjunction with “small island developing states.”