As the five-year NSF PIRE ARMS project ramped down, Dr. Forest Rohwer had already decided where to apply the technology next. This time, rather than using Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) to census biodiversity, they would use ARMS to collect biodiversity and move it. The ARMS, a square-foot settlement structure, would be placed on healthy natural reefs, then, after years of organisms growing over them, these reef communities would be moved to artificial structures.
There, ARMS would act like seeds. The organisms on them from healthy reefs would venture onto and grow over the new habitat, turning a lifeless structure into a vibrant ecosystem. The PIRE ARMS project used ARMS to census small and oft-ignored marine organisms across the most biodiverse region of Earth’s oceans, the Coral Triangle in the Indo-Pacific. Rohwer and team found that, impressively, ARMS aggregate representatives of about 70% of the known inhabitants of coral reefs, and loads of species unknown to science. With this information in mind, Forest and team set about repurposing ARMS for conservation and restoration: building a reef off the seafloor, in ideal conditions for corals and their reef partners, and able to be moved far from human influence. Coral Reef Arks were born.
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