‘Reef cubes’: could these plastic-free blocks help save the ocean?

ocean 2020

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Artificial reefs are vital in protecting offshore wind farms from strong tides, but existing defences often contain plastic, which could be harmful to marine life.
  • Start-up ARC Marine has created a plastic-free alternative.
  • Its reef cubes are designed to protect turbines and help restore marine biodiversity.

Artificial reefs play an important role in protecting offshore installations like wind farms. Unprotected, the turbine masts are exposed to tidal scouring, undermining their foundations.

Engineers often use undersea concrete “mats” composed of large blocks to protect the bottom of these towers on the seabed. There are 40,000 of them in the waters around the UK alone.

How UpLink is helping to find innovations to solve challenges like this

UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations in an effort to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

It is an open platform designed to engage anyone who wants to offer a contribution for the global public good. The core objective is to link up the best innovators to networks of decision-makers, who can implement the change needed for the next decade. As a global platform, UpLink serves to aggregate and guide ideas and impactful activities, and make connections to scale-up impact.

Hosted by the World Economic Forum, UpLink is being designed and developed in collaboration with Salesforce, Deloitte and LinkedIn.

UpLink is now running the COVID Challenge, which aims to surface the best solutions and responses to COVID-19.

Wind farms are an important part of our transition to a low-carbon economy. But many of the concrete defences submerged to protect them contain plastics and are considered by environmental groups to be marine litter. This often needs to be removed, recycled or disposed of.

So one start-up has developed an alternative. ARC Marine’s reef cubes are made from recycled aggregate and sand that is a byproduct of the quarrying industry. The company says this reduces carbon emissions by 90% compared to the processes used to make common types of cement.

The cubes interlock, leaving larger living spaces for fish, crabs and lobsters, and their porous surface is designed to allow marine plants to establish easily and grow. The aim is for these alternative reefs to protect vital offshore installations from storms and erosion while also encouraging marine biodiversity.

Artificial marine cubes
Home from home: reef cubes encourage marine biodiversity.
Image: ARC Marine

The cost of removing the existing concrete mats is estimated at $32 million for each gigawatt of a wind farm’s output, according to ARC Marine. Reef cubes are designed to be left in place even after a farm has been decommissioned.

The company says the cubes will also help to restore marine habitats devastated by human impacts on the environment.

It’s an urgent problem. Around 70% of coral reefs are under threat, whilst rock reefs also suffer from damage due to practices like trawling and dredging. The United Nations warns that half of all marine species could be on the brink of extinction by the end of this century.

Ecological benefits of marine cubes.
Ecological benefits of marine cubes.
Image: ARC Marine

Tom Birkbeck, CEO and founder of ARC Marine, calls the reef cubes “building blocks for the ocean” and says they were inspired by the belief that every offshore and coastal project can have a positive impact on ocean health. The company adds that it can help with meeting five of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – primarily goal 14: conserving life below water.

“Reef cubes accelerate reef creation and help repair ecosystems that have been destroyed from centuries of bottom trawling and dredging,” he says.

“The global increase in offshore wind demand provides an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild rocky reef habitats around offshore construction projects which historically have caused damage and often deploy toxic and plastic-laden materials.”

How UpLink is helping to find innovations to solve challenges like this

UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations in an effort to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

It is an open platform designed to engage anyone who wants to offer a contribution for the global public good. The core objective is to link up the best innovators to networks of decision-makers, who can implement the change needed for the next decade. As a global platform, UpLink serves to aggregate and guide ideas and impactful activities, and make connections to scale-up impact.

Hosted by the World Economic Forum, UpLink is being designed and developed in collaboration with Salesforce, Deloitte and LinkedIn.

UpLink is now running the COVID Challenge, which aims to surface the best solutions and responses to COVID-19.

By restoring the marine environment, the cubes can also encourage sustainable fishing and eco-tourism, he says. And if coupled with a ban on trawling in areas where they are submerged, they could help fish stocks to recover.

The team behind the cubes was shortlisted for the 2020 Offshore Achievement Awards – often dubbed “the offshore Oscars” – for their work on the project.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

A staggering one-in-three women, experience physical, sexual abuse

Eurozone retail sales fall shows recession

Member States and Commission to work together to boost artificial intelligence “made in Europe”

The 28 EU leaders don’t touch the thorny issues

Future Forces Forum: Prague will be hosting the most important project in the field of Defence and Security

This start-up has developed a way for businesses to quickly compost food waste

EU seems to fail its moderate migration promises postponing them for end 2015

Globalization is changing. Here’s how your business can adapt

11 innovations protecting life below water – and above it

6 ways to future-proof universities

In 2019, ‘reasons for hope’ in a world still on ‘red alert’: UN chief Guterres

How to make your business thrive by doing good

North Korean families facing deep ‘hunger crisis’ after worst harvest in 10 years, UN food assessment shows

A day in the life of a Rohingya refugee

Human rights ‘core to sustainable development’: deputy UN chief

It will take a lot more than free menstrual pads to end period poverty

Rule of law: MEPs travel to Malta to meet with government, NGOs and journalists

Does research make sense any more? The dire need for new ways to measure success

In Rome you can swap plastic bottles for metro tickets

Latest Coronavirus (Covid-19) briefing from the World Health Organisation – key takeaways

Why good cybersecurity in business is everyone’s responsibility

Google’s hot summer never ends: EC to launch ANOTHER antitrust inquiry against the American giant

Supply chains have been upended. Here’s how to make them more resilient

One Day in Beijing

European Youth Forum celebrates 20 years of fighting for youth rights

Few countries are pricing carbon high enough to meet climate targets

How to save the world’s forests with carbon credits

Why Obama asks approval from Congress to bomb Syria?

A money laundering case on Vatican Bank’s road to renovation

Reject passivity and embrace ‘responsibility for our future,’ Lithuania’s President tells UN Assembly

Rapid growth in China post-COVID makes it ripe for investment

The European Parliament wants to stay in one place

A day in the life of a Venezuelan migrant in Boa Vista, Brazil

EU food watchdog: more transparency, better risk prevention

Destroying nuclear waste to create clean energy? It can be done

The European Union and the United States reach an agreement on imports of hormone-free beef

Preparing for developing countries the ‘Greek cure’

Iran: BBC and other broadcast journalists harassed; families threatened – UN experts

Mountains matter, especially if you’re young, UN declares

Coronavirus: Commission holds first meeting of EU COVID-19 national scientific advice platform

The European Parliament floating over the South China Sea

Turkey presents a new strategy for EU accession but foreign policy could be the lucky card

European Border and Coast Guard: Council adopts revised regulation

UN urges ‘restraint’ in Bangladesh’s post-presidential election violence

10 reasons why today’s cyber leaders are tomorrow’s world leaders

For video game addiction, now read official ‘gaming disorder’: World Health Organization

Around 23 million boys have married before reaching 15; ‘we can end this violation’ says UNICEF chief

Humanitarian aid: EU allocates €54.5 million to Africa’s Great Lakes region

Ending use of chemical weapons in Syria: ‘still work to be done’, says UN disarmament chief

Can cybersecurity offer value for money?

These are India’s cleanest cities

COVID-19 vaccine campaigns: how far are the anti-vaccine movements going online? How can pro-vaxxers be part of their change?

EU-US trade agreement talks to be affected by American bugs

Health challenges need predictable healthcare investment policies. Japan’s example shows why

These airports are now opening their doors to non-fliers

3 pressing urban problems Indian cities must solve in the post-COVID recovery

Electronic cigarettes: is it really a safe alternative to smoking?

Cutting money transfer fees could unlock $15bn for developing countries. Here’s how

Cape Town almost ran out of water. Here’s how it averted the crisis

The world’s supercomputers joined forces against COVID-19 – why such collaborations are critical for tackling future emergencies

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s