Los Angeles-based Reef Worlds, whose team includes film and television designers, dive-site developers, and marine biologists are designing next generation sustainable reefs for tourism and the environment in a race to save inshore ocean habitat around the globe.
Environmental change has caused the loss of more than half the world’s reef building corals. Coral cover, a measure of the percentage of the seafloor covered by living coral, is now just 10-20 percent worldwide. The Caribbean, thought to be one of the more pristine global reef systems, has lost 80% of its coral cover in only the last 50 years.
CEO Patric Douglas notes that while scuba diving and snorkeling are a $3-billion-a-year business, most resort developments don’t offer much in the way of special underwater experiences. “Many five-star resorts have one-star waterfronts,” says Douglas. Reef Worlds estimates there are 500,000 square miles of resort oceanfront with limited appeal to adventurous tourists due to rampant habitat loss.
Worse yet, these zones have suffered decades of neglect as resort developers focused on land based amenities such as water parks and golf courses.
“Reef Worlds was established three years ago with the goal of working alongside resorts to create sustainable artificial reef systems that help reduce tourism pressures on natural reefs. Reef Worlds are fully monetized discrete mini-marine “protected areas” within the resort’s own footprint, allowing them to brand the signature underwater experiences of their guests while creating and fostering regional habitat,” says Douglas.
Reef Worlds have been promoting the economic and ecological benefits of what he calls “habitat tourism,” which would give resort owners a way to monetize the waters off their beaches, while relieving some of the pressure from aquatic tourists on natural underwater reef systems that are endangered or dying.
Artificial reefs have been around for decades. Most were created with everything from sunken battleships to old tires—and most, says Douglas, are boring. “Who wants to look at a concrete triangle?” he asks. Reef Worlds designs and creates “dynamic reefs” to attract sea life and tourism interest, making them places people actually want to explore, he says.
In Mexico, the company is developing an underwater art garden featuring 200 works of art that will take their cues from Mayan and Aztec iconography. Douglas calls this “Mayan Gods in 3D.”
Douglas says Reef Worlds will be able to bring in projects at 10-20% of the cost of a typical resort water theme park, which can run $70 million to build and $10 million a year to market and maintain. And unlike land based entertainment facilities Reef Worlds sites slowly transform over time into habitat for a wide range of wildlife and corals like a typical artificial reef.
Reef Worlds’ “Pearl of Dubai” project will be located in the waters around the World Islands development. Renderings suggest the park might be modeled after the mythic Lost City of Atlantis. Reef Worlds has five projects in varying stages of development in Dubai, Qatar, the Philippines, and Mexico.
Reef Worlds has had less success in the Caribbean: two years ago, Douglas found no takers when he offered $4.5 million to resorts in Jamaica to install underwater parks there. “It’s a vision thing,” he says, “and we’re playing the long game, there’s over 500,000 miles of declining near shore resort reefs that need our help.”
About Reef Worlds
At the intersection of art, science, and the environment is Reef Worlds. When a unique team of film and television designers, dive site developers, and marine biologists got together they dreamt of a better way to experience the undersea realm. The result was Reef Worlds.
Visit their website www.reefworlds.com