The Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Lebanon has seen better days. Elders might recall a time when the water was clear and teeming with color and life, but for the few last years, the waters have been practically devoid of life, and scuba diving more apocalyptic than fun.
Until Dr. Michel Chalhoub, a Beirut-based engineer, secured funding to make a patch of sea off the coast of Tripoli beautiful again by sinking a huge pile of army vehicles about 12 km from the coast. Disused tanks, vans, and even a barge and crane were lowered into the water to establish a new artificial reef that was completed in June, 2012.
Almost one year later, the American-educated Dr. Chalhoub is reluctant to say whether or not sinking the tanks and vans has made a measurable difference in Tripoli’s marine health, he told Green Prophet.
Unlike mega developers Nakheel in Dubai, who promised to build 500 artificial reefs along the Gulf Coast in order to offset the damage of their many construction projects, and Bahrain, who boasted that their artificial reef restored their waters within a fast 16 weeks, Dr. Chalhoub takes a more conservative approach to his work.
“We will be providing underwater inspection this year. We expect that it is still somewhat early to draw conclusions,” he told Green Prophet.
He was similarly matter-of-fact about the materials used to create the artificial reef, which is a particular magnate for algae, bacteria, corals and egg-laying fish:
“I used (1) vans that I joined two-by-two like train wagons on common chassis, (2) natural rock, (3) special concrete inside the vans, (4) Army scrap steel beds which I used to reinforce the concrete, (5) Army tanks, (6) Army barge/marine carrier, (7) a separate floating 110 tom capacity crane. The reef is made of several pieces deployed at distances between 70 – 100 m approx. from each other.”
But maybe he’ll be wrong. Maybe the army vehicles taken from Lebanon’s Kfarshima army junkyard, with permission of course, will be crawling with funky creatures when the follow-up mission starts.
Like the Red Sea and the Arabian/Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean has changed in recent years thanks to rising temperatures, acidification, poorly managed coastal development, overfishing and a host of other harmful feedback loops.
“Waters have deteriorated due to waste dumping and faced an acute pollution problem in 2006 from oil spills during bombardments,” Dr. Chalhoub said in an email.
But the artificial reef is expected to rejuvenate the eastern Mediterranean in the same way that shiprecks spawn such incredible biodiversity – by providing a place for fish and flora to reproduce.
If successful, the project in theory should jumpstart the local fishing industry and become a new, more upbeat, recreational scuba diving destination.