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Indonesian artist prepares another underwater reef-to-be

  • The installation consists of iron and uses biorock technology to spur coral growth upon the structure.
  • The local district head says he hopes the project will raise awareness about Indonesia’s embattled coral ecosystems.
  • The central government is striving to increase coverage of Indonesia’s embattled reefs.

An Indonesian artist is preparing to put in place the second in a series of giant underwater installations meant to serve as a home for fish and raise awareness about the archipelago’s embattled coral reefs.

The project began last year when painter and sculptor Teguh Ostenrik built Domus Sepiae, or Squid House, and assembled it with a team of scuba divers on the ocean floor off Senggigi, the main tourist strip on the island of Lombok, the next island over from Bali.

Next week, Teguh will set up a similar installation in the waters of Wakatobi, an islands and district in Southeast Sulawesi province, to commemorate Coral Day there. Similar Coral Days were held in other parts of the country earlier this year.

While Domus Sepiae resembled a cephalopod, Domus Longus, or Long House, is a replica of a bright yellow longnose butterfly fish (Forcipiger flavissimus), the mascot of Wakatobi National Park, which lies in the Coral Triangle and is known as one of the world’s best dive sites.

Both sculptures are made of iron and equipped with biorock technology, which sends electricity through the metal to spur coral growth.

“For me, art does not always have to be in museums and galleries,” Teguh told journalists recently. “It can be underwater. When we’re talking about conservation or revitalization [of reefs], we can also see art.”

The plan for Domus Longus is depicted in an illustration. Photo courtesy of the ARTificial Reef Foundation

Teguh, who coined the term ARTificial Reef to refer to the project, hopes the installation will transform into reef in a year or two, which is already happening in Senggigi.

“It’s very amazing to see that my work is being followed up on by Mother Nature,” he said.

Hugua, the regent of Wakatobi, said the project underlines the importance of coral ecosystems to local marine tourism.

“I really appreciate that this ARTificial Reef [project] is being held in Wakatobi, especially in a spot where coral reefs have been destroyed as a result of human activity,” Hugua said, adding that blast fishing is still a problem in the area.

In Wakatobi, he said, most of damaged reefs are in areas with lots of human activity. The best reefs are in lagoons that aren’t allowed to be visited except for diving.

A yellow longnose butterfly fish. Photo by Brian Gratwicke (Wikimedia Commons)

Agus Dermawan, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry’s director-general of conservation and marine national parks, said using biorock to create new reefs is viable as long as it doesn’t pollute the sea.

“Some people used to sink old buses [to grow reefs] but they forgot about gasoline and oil tanks,” he said. “Now we’re seeing structures built from metal, which minimizes pollution.”

Only about a twentieth of Indonesia’s 2.5 million hectares of coral reefs, he added, are in excellent condition, with only 350,000 hectares in protected areas.

“At least 70 percent are mildly and badly damaged, while 30 percent is considered in good condition,” he said.

The ministry wants to increase reef coverage by 15-20 percent.

“We can’t fix them all at once but it’s more about approaching humans so they don’t do more damage than has already been done,” Agus said. “Meanwhile, we are protecting and monitoring those in good condition.”

A coral reef in Wakatobi. Photo by Craig D (Wikimedia Commons)