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Reef Arabia’s Game-Changing Reef Modules Majfara Units: Durable Solutions that Blend with the Environment

By: Michael Arora, Director of Marine Ecological Surveys, Reef Arabia

In 2001, the Bahraini-owned Environment Arabia Consultancy Services WLL (EACS) was established as the first environmental consultancy in the Kingdom of Bahrain, primarily to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and marine baseline surveys. In the 16 years since, they have worked on some of the region’s most prestigious projects, including the Palm Diera and World projects in Dubai, the new causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, and the US$2.7 million Bahrain Artificial Reef Project.

EACS’ passionate team of marine biologists are constantly developing practical mitigation and compensation solutions to address the impacts associated with dredging and reclamation. This led to the formation of Reef Arabia in 2012, a contracting arm of EACS, tasked with the design, construction, and deployment of artificial reefs.

Initially, Reef Arabia worked with (and still does sometimes) the best-known patented design originating from the U.S. This design has a history of success, but Reef Arabia proposed that an artificial reef could do more than provide a utilitarian habitat to fish species. If designed properly, it could be integrated into the environment in a natural and aesthetically pleasing manner.

Initially, Reef Arabia worked with the best-known patented design originating from the U.S., seen here on a barge.

Initially, Reef Arabia worked with the best-known patented design originating from the U.S., seen here on a barge.

As Reef Arabia’s capabilities grew, they merged their extensive knowledge of Arabian Gulf ecology with innovative concrete reef production methodologies. The result was the Majfara reef module.

In developing Majfara units, Reef Arabia rejected the one-design-fits-all approach and produced concrete units that were functional and practical, but also blended naturally and beautifully into the receiving environment. In short, we didn’t try to improve on nature—we imitated it as much as possible. Majfara (pronounced Mayfara) means cracks or rock fissures in the seafloor in Arabic. These cracks and fissures are a preferred habitat of demersal fish such as the local orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides).

The first Majfara designs comprised low-profile, single- layer concrete units that blended seamlessly onto a pavement rock seafloor with sand enveloping the edges. The result was a largely inconspicuous habitat specific to target species, but one that also provided ample hard substrate, of high surface rugosity, for colonizing organisms such as sponges, tunicates, and corals.

The success of the single-layer Majfara led them to develop the double unit, incorporating greater vertical relief above the seabed. This second version provided greater refuge/habitat for fish by doubling the protective space as well as adding complex internal cavities that serve as valuable fish habitat. This upgrade resulted in a unit that now exceeds competitors’ products, while mimicking natural seabed topographic features and providing much more pleasing aesthetics. Reef Arabia’s goal of producing an effective unit incorporating both form and function was taking shape.

The artificial reef market is fickle, and creating reefs for the sole purpose of fishery enhancement is not commercially sustainable. Many academics have noted adverse issues associated with artificial reefs, and Reef Arabia wanted to address the challenge ethically, giving the company new purpose in their objectives—focus on developing the Majfara as a host substrate for relocated corals. Given the extensive coastal development in the Arabian Gulf and the obligation for developers to compensate for habitat loss, this is an essential functional requirement for artificial reef modules.

Single layer Majfara.

Single layer Majfara.

CSA: An Expert Partner in Coral Relocation

Enter the experts: CSA Ocean Science Inc. (CSA). CSA has operated in the Arabian Gulf for many years and by the time Reef Arabia worked with them, they had successfully relocated more than 16,000 corals in the Qatar region as part of compensation projects associated with the new Doha port development and gas pipeline installations.

Reef Arabia and CSA struck up a relationship during the Doha port work and CSA recognized the value of the Majfara in the field of habitat mitigation, specifically as a host substrate for relocated corals. Previously, corals relocated in the Gulf (required due to dredging projects, subsea pipeline installations, etc.) were placed on existing hard substrate or large quarried rock boulders delivered to site. Quarried boulders were used because there is quite often a lack of suitable subsea rocky seabed in the Arabian Gulf. Although successful, the use of rock is relatively expensive and, often, locating suitable coral attachment points on the rock can be difficult and time-consuming, resulting in additional costs to the project. The Majfara design provided ample hard substrate for coral reattachment while still providing a functional fish habitat. Commercially, the units provided a cheaper option than rock and one that could be deployed either en masse or individually.

In 2014, CSA commissioned Reef Arabia to produce and deploy 213 Majfara units as part of the RasGas Company Ltd. Barzan/Flow Assurance Project (FAP) mitigation works and specifically as a host material for the relocation of approximately 1,200 corals. The project was a complete success and demonstrated the advantages of the modules over traditional rock.

Double layer Majfara.

Double layer Majfara.

Due to the limited amount of available exposed hard substrate in the vicinity of the Barzan/FAP pipelines, substrate augmentation was necessary to provide substrate for coral reattachment. During the initial Barzan project, quarried boulders were utilized as coral reattachment substrate. Although the project was successful, the decision was made to utilize the newly designed Majfara reef modules for the subsequent FAP project. The Majfara was more cost-effective, furnished a larger amount of surface area for coral reattachment per unit structure, and provided a significant amount of internal cavity space to provide complex habitat for fish and invertebrate species.

The first year of post-installation monitoring showed remarkable results. Reattached coral survival was nearly 100% on the Majfara modules, which was similar to the rate noted for the coral reattached to the quarried boulders for the original Barzan Pipeline project.

Majfara Advantages

Compared to other pre-fabricated artificial reef structures used in the Arabian Gulf, the Majfara units provide a more natural appearance, can be readily used as substrate for coral relocation, and are extremely durable. They are virtually immune to anchor and storm damage. Their rough surface texture is ideal for natural invertebrate larvae recruitment, as well as for the cementing of corals to the units.

Majfara reef modules were designed to replicate the natural low-relief hard bottom substrate typically found in the nearshore areas of Qatar and Bahrain.

When placed in locations where a thin sand veneer covers flat hard bottom substrate, they yield an elevated structure conducive to the natural recruitment of coral and other invertebrate larvae. The modules not only provide a suitable surface for coral reattachment, they elevate the coral colonies up to 0.5 m above the bottom, preventing their burial by sand during storm events. The wide size range of internal cavities serves as valuable habitat for juvenile fish and invertebrates.

An Immediate, But Lasting Impact

Because the Majfara reef modules are created from a proprietary, nearly pH-neutral cement and aggregate mixture, they provide substrate that facilitates almost immediate recruitment of invertebrate larvae.

Additionally, they provide horizontal spaces on the module surface where relocated coral colonies can be attached, saving threatened coral colonies and immediately increasing the habitat complexity and ecological function of the modules.

The rough texture of Majfara modules provides an ideal surface for the reattachment of coral colonies using a cement mixture.

The rough texture of Majfara modules provides an ideal surface for the reattachment of coral colonies using a cement mixture.

Within hours of placement on the seafloor, numerous species of fish take up residence. Once coral colonies are attached, the reef units have an even more natural appearance; within a 1-year period, sponges and tunicates have been observed to colonize the new structures.

One of the additional advantages of the Majfara modules is that their rough texture provides an ideal surface for the reattachment of coral colonies using a cement mixture. After 1 year of monitoring, none of the corals reattached to the Majfara modules had become detached, while numerous coral colonies reattached to native limestone boulders had become detached due to a poor bonding surface. Observations indicated that the much smoother limestone surface did not provide as secure a bond for the cement as did the rough Majfara module surfaces.

Continued Success and Global Expansion

Majfara modules have a vital role to play within the region, an opinion justified in 2016 by the Qatar Ministry of Environment who specified it as the preferred artificial reef unit in the State of Qatar. But what about the rest of the world? Can this new approach to artificial reefs be successful elsewhere? Reef Arabia believes it can.

The original single and double units were constructed using hands-on, labor intensive methods.

The original single and double units were constructed using hands-on, labor intensive methods.

Both the single and double units were constructed using hands-on, labor intensive methods. While this allowed for the inclusion of specific features for each host location, the units were not being made outside of Reef Arabia’s production facility at commercial levels. The company decided that they would develop a mold that would allow for the export of the Majfara worldwide, while also refining the design to facilitate coral relocation efforts.

Developing a mold for such a complex design was no easy task, but the factors in making Reef Arabia’s design a success are clear: defined function, ease of manufacture and deployment, and aesthetics. The irregular shapes of the Majfara modules and the double caverns raised issues that, at times, seemed insurmountable.

Reef Arabia used modern technology to develop a shape that could be produced via a mold. They used modeling clay to form a model of the original double-layer Majfara that 3D software transformed into a digital shape design, allowing for size modifications, structural integrity tests, viewing from all angles, and, importantly, a design meeting key criteria.

They printed several 3D scale models and could now see how the unit would look, which gave them the opportunity to incorporate further changes after observation of the product.

The next stage was to prove the shape could be cast using traditional concrete methodologies. Not wanting to risk the expense of a full-size prototype, Reef Arabia manufactured a miniature mold, again using 3D printing technology. The result was a scale perfect mold into which cement was poured.

The design passed their inspection, and the new Majfara was born. Upscaling the model to full-size was straightforward; a 5-axis computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine carved the module blank in polystyrene and fiberglass was applied to create the mold.

The first unit was ‘hatched’ in September 2016, and the rough texture of the unit, which is so important for colonizing marine creatures, was successfully recreated. Reef Arabia now had a unit that could be recreated worldwide, was structurally stronger than the previous design, and tailored specifically to act as both a fish refuge and coral relocation substrate.

Computer image of unit.

Computer image of unit.

3d model.

3d model.

Deployment in 2017

Production of the new unit couldn’t have been better timed. CSA, along with Reef Arabia, have been commissioned by RasGas to create new marine habitat within the State of Qatar and 200 units will be deployed off the Qatari coast in early 2017.

As part of the new RasGas project, the new Majfara unit will be subjected to a series of oceanographic test conditions to assess its stability under differing wave conditions. These tests will be undertaken at the UK-based HR Wallingford’s physical modelling facility. The results will indicate how stable the unit is on the seafloor in differing wave conditions and confirm that the Majfara is one of the most thoroughly designed and tested artificial reef units on the market.

Coral thrives after attachment to Majfara unit.

Coral thrives after attachment to Majfara unit.

A new unit ready for use.

A new unit ready for use.

Recognition of Reef Arabia’s achievements by the Bahrain Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, were showcased in late 2016 when Reef Arabia was selected to unveil the new Majfara to the British Heir Apparent, His Highness Prince Charles, as an example of local Bahraini creativity. Reef Arabia’s director, Ms. Halel Abdulrahman, had the pleasure of meeting both princes and explaining why and how the Majfara has been developed.

This meeting has facilitated the expansion of Reef Arabia’s trial Acropora nursery (Bahrain’s first and only) to a full-scale pilot project in order to, in the words of HH Sheihk Salman, “Bring our corals back to Bahrain.”

The possibilities for growth and partnership are endless. For example, the Bahrain-based company Eco Arabia provides eco-tours and science education for school children. The experience allows kids to learn about the manufacture of artificial reefs and get involved in coral nursery programs. In one such nursery project, Reef Arabia is using Majfara modules as the host substrate within Bahrain’s waters. Several units will be placed in the country’s northern waters at a location devoid of naturally occurring corals. The site has been selected due to its excellent water quality, which is fed from open water currents and, consequently, is slightly cooler than nearshore waters. It is hoped that Reef Arabia will set the foundations of laying suitable substrate seeded with reared corals so that natural coral colonization will take place.

Reef Arabia’s Director Ms. Halel Abdulrahman unveils the new Majfara to the British Heir Apparent, His Highness Prince Charles.

Reef Arabia’s Director Ms. Halel Abdulrahman unveils the new Majfara to the British Heir Apparent, His Highness Prince Charles.

Summary

The Majfara module is superior to other artificial reef structures used in the Arabian Gulf region in many ways.

• They have a more natural appearance with the lower profile, mimicking native hard bottom.

• They are structurally sound and do not break apart due to vessel anchor impacts or severe storms.

• They are heavy relative to their size and have a hydrodynamic profile that prevents them from being moved by storm waves and swells.

• They have multiple internal cavities of various shapes, sizes, and levels to provide habitat for various fish and mobile invertebrate species (not just one large central cavity).

• Because of the extensive internal complexity, they have a much higher surface area per unit module than other comparable structures.

• The rough surface texture provides ideal substrate for the natural recruitment and settlement of coral and other invertebrate larvae.

• They are designed to offer numerous coral reattachment platforms on each module, allowing up to a dozen coral colonies to be attached to an individual unit.

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