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ASR response to India reef

June 18 2010 | Artificial reefs, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I mentioned in my post A few questions regarding ASR's new reef in Kovalam, India that I'd post their response, in it's entirety. What follows is their response, complete with criticism of me. I've edited nothing. I was expecting the dialog to be mostly focused on the India reef, but I'll respect their interest to broaden the dialog.


We found your blog post on ASR’s reef in India consistent with the typical misinformed statements you made in the past regarding artificial reefs. ASR supports the Surfrider Foundation and most of us are devoted members. ASR made a concerted effort to reach out to you over the last 8 months in an attempt to interact constructively. Educating the public on coastal issues is an important mission for both Surfrider and ASR. We figured engaging with you as the current CEO of the organization was a logical approach.

Unfortunately you ignored our requests to engage and cast a negative light on artificial reefs from a seemingly uneducated viewpoint. The tragedy here is that you are taking passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to oceans, waves, and beaches then drawing a line in the sand between those individuals and Surfrider. Managing our world’s oceans and coastlines is a vastly complex and critical task so important to the environment and humanity that we need all the help we can get as a civilization. For ASR, this means finding ways to work together in order to have a positive impact.

In a letter to your members titled “Maximizing Our Collective Impact,” from the April 2010 issue of the national publication of the Surfrider Foundation you write: “When we rush to judge, oversimplify and force people or groups into one bucket or another, we miss the real value and kill the greater opportunity.” Adding that, “when we interact on an issue we need to give each group the time and respect they deserve to present their case. Engaging in a process that includes dialogue, allows differences to be heard, and is mutually respectful. This approach seeks common ground, enabling parties that may disagree on one issue to work together on a future one.” ASR agrees completely.

Surfrider and ASR are very different organizations but we seek similar objectives and share common goals of helping protect the world’s oceans and coastlines. ASR believes our organizations should have a strong dialogue and respectful interaction. In your own words Jim, “an inclusive process yields larger successes. It enables future alignment, partnerships and pressures to shift society toward embracing environmental principles.”

ASR absolutely supports the preservation of natural resources and minimizing the negative impact human beings have on our planet. We agree that in certain cases such as saving valuable waves, stopping or preventing human interruption of natural beach processes is the right thing to do. But using that position as a blanket approach to existing issues facing the world’s oceans is akin to sticking our heads in the sand and doing nothing while we continue allowing politics and big business to clad our beaches with walls.

We live in a world with massive amounts of coastal development occurring daily. Billions of dollars are spent each year building seawalls, dumping rocks on beaches, and pumping sand. This reality will not go away because our civilization will not let trillions of dollars of existing coastal infrastructure (and its corresponding tax revenue) simply fall into the sea. With global warming, sea level rise, and ever-growing coastal populations, coastal ‘protection’ and the associated resource allocation will do nothing but continue to grow.

As concerned stakeholders we need to empower ourselves with the knowledge and tools to make a difference. ASR believes reallocating existing coastal protection budgets to solutions that consider the beach a resource is something that will benefit coastal communities and our planet.

ASR Multi-Purpose Reefs have the following proven benefits:

Multi-Purpose Reefs Redirect Wave Energy and Protect the Coast
Multi-Purpose Reefs Provide Habitat for Marine Life
Multi-Purpose Reefs Create Socioeconomic Benefits
Multi-Purpose Reefs Create Recreation, Even New Waves

Why not use Multi-Purpose Reefs as an environmentally sensitive form of coastal protection where it makes sense? Why not get more socioeconomic and environmental value out of dollars currently spent on our coasts? Coastal communities need better solutions for the problems facing our beaches. We believe it is important that relevant stakeholders work together towards a responsible future with options that value the ocean and beaches as a resource.

In the spirit of respectful interaction we have the following responses to some of the questions you have raised:

1) What was the business case for implementing a Multi-Purpose Reef in Kovalam?

Developing an innovative coastal protection structure as an alternative to the rock walls that line over 400km of the 600km of Kerala’s coastline. The Multi-Purpose Reef in Kovalam provides a coastal protection solution that allows access to the ocean, provides marine habitat, increases localized sand retention, and creates recreational value.

Surfrider may or may not be aware of India’s severe coastal erosion problems and archaic existing solutions. TWO THIRDS OF KERALA’S COAST IS LINED WITH ROCK WALLS. These walls increase erosion, degrade the socio-economic value of communities, and inhibit access for local fishermen and other groups that need access to the beach and/or ocean.

2) What was Kovalam like before the Multi-Purpose Reef?

Before ASR’s Multi-Purpose Reef, Kovalam was primarily a closeout shorebreak. At times and under the right conditions the area produced inconsistent, soft breaking ‘rolling’ wave. Surfable under occasional conditions but was very poor quality.

3) What does ASR means by ‘erosion control: “We all know that reefs take power out of a swell hitting the coast. That's logical to surfers as we feel that power. Further it's certainly possible for a submerged break wall infrastructure (essentially what an artificial reef is) to have a positive impact on stemming erosion. That said, we also know sand movement is a zero sum game.

In regards to erosion control, calling coastal sediment transportation a ‘zero-sum’ game oversimplifies the issue and does not speak to the complexity of coastal processes and the corresponding science. In fact, your statement is entirely incorrect. If sand is gained on one beach that does not necessarily imply that it was taken from another beach up or down the coast. Sand movement is not a static, ‘zero sum’ equation. It is highly variable and influenced by a myriad of natural forces and human influences.

In Southern California for example, sedim ent is moving predominantly south along the beach but northwards during the occasional south swell. It often moves offshore during storms and onshore again in long-period conditions. It is lost from the ‘beach system’ in natural (e.g. canyons) and man-made (e.g. harbor entrances) sediment traps. Since the major sources of sediment on California’s coast are erosion of cliffs and inputs from rivers, sediment supply is greatly reduced by human activities. Because cliffs are protected from erosion by concrete walls, roads are built, and rivers dammed, there is a ‘net-deficit’ amount of sand in the “beach system” and California has a growing number of coastal erosion concerns.

This reality speaks to the necessity of using solutions to retain sediment on developed beaches and coastlines experiencing net losses in sedimentation. When implementing erosion protection structures why not create value where it makes sense by providing habitat and recreation instead of dumping rocks and creating seawalls? The idea behind ASR Multi-Purpose Reefs is that they allow accumulation of sediment through natural transport and provide value to the beach and coastal communities rather than protecting only buildings adjacent to the coast.

4) Reef life expectancy and materials: “What's underneath this wave is plastic bags. What we've seen is that these bags under normal wear and tear of ocean currents and swells they have a life expectancy of about 10 - 20 years (regardless of manufacturers claims). Once they wear out they are not easy to take out. People think ‘what's the big deal, swim down to the reef, cut the bag open and let the sand out.’ If life were only that simple.”

ASR appreciates your environmental concerns but we question the information that forms the basis of your assertions. With statements such as ‘what we’ve seen,’ we assume your comments are based on the findings, results, and experiences of Pratte’s Reef, a devastating failure. The materials used for Pratte's Reef should never have been implemented in the marine environment and are significantly different than the materials used by ASR. Our GSFC’s (Geotextile Sand Filled Containers) are relatively new and innovative in terms of coastal protection but will likely last longer than a majority of traditional alternatives (e.g. seawalls).

Your assertion that removal of an artificial reef is dollar for dollar as expensive as construction is not the case for our Multi-Purpose Reefs and also likely stems from Pratte’s Reef experiences. If for some reason, there was interest in dismantling an ASR Multi-Purpose Reef, one could cut the bags open allowing the sediment to freely disperse. The geotextile containers could then be detached and winched or lifted off the seabed. In ASR’s case, it really is ‘that simple.’ Of course at this point, you would be destroying the abundance of marine organisms living on the Multi-Purpose Reef.

Our comparisons in carbon footprint and energy use of a variety of coastal protection solutions has shown that sand-filled geotextile container structures are arguably the most efficient. This makes sense because the manufactured geotextile material is only a small fraction of the total volume of the sand-filled structure. ASR’s philosophy with respect to material usage is simple: Strive to create the highest quality product while minimizing the environmental impact.

Jim, everyone at ASR supports Surfrider and its goals of protecting and preserving our oceans, coastlines, and surf breaks. You mention spending the last 20 years of your life dedicated to developing technologies that address big ideas. What happened? Perhaps you should take the advice you imparted your readers. “Next time we feel the urge to slam an opponent into a tiny bucket and dismiss their future potential value, let’s remember this is about something larger than a single, tactical battle. It’s about changing the world.” ASR is doing exactly that. Changing the way our world looks at coastal protection and developing environmentally sensitive solutions.

You suggest that we “stay grounded in reality as we move ahead.” Well Jim, the reality is that many of the world’s coastlines are over developed and facing ever-increasing burdens from our society. As you say, “we need to interact constructively and recognize the value in finding common ground and developing solutions to coastal protection problems rather than create a divisive and binary world and miss the real opportunity to maximize our collective impact. ASR looks forward to working with the Surfrider Foundation to have a positive impact on the oceans, waves, and beaches we all love so much.


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