Mike, as usual, looks at life from a slightly different angle, which is why the noon-day heat saw the Young Explorers building a metal aircraft on Pangaea’s aft deck – with welding help from engineer Jaçek Pronewicz. The plane infrastructure, made out of metal rod, was then anchored on the sea bed just off Lankayan Island in the conservation area of the Sulu Sea, where over time it will hopefully become a new coral reef. “We put it at a depth of about eight metres – it has to be not too shallow, not too deep so that the coral will grow,” said Kersten Dörner, 18, of Germany. “We each had our country’s name carved onto a block of wood that we attached to the frame, so we’ll always be flying ‘Pan-air’ even when we’re not there.” Creating the reef was another of the Young Explorers’ ACT projects, and it serves two purposes – it creates a new ecosystem supporting coral and fish stocks, and gives divers and snorkellers another reef to learn about and enjoy.
But simply placing a structure is not enough to create a reef. A battery was wired to the structure, sending a small electric current through it. That causes a reaction with the salt sea water, which forms a coating of calcium carbonate over the entire structure – that’s electrolysis. It’s a bit like gold-plating it, only the layer is calcium carbonate rather than gold. “We believe the coral larvas floating in the sea are attracted to the current,” said Dr Roswitha Stolz, physical geographer from the University of Munich. “But most importantly, the calcium carbonate is the right material for the larva to attach to – they can’t settle on the metal.”
The larva turns into polyps, which slowly grow to create a new coral colony, which in turn becomes an entire ecosystem supporting new corals, small fish, sponges and more. Over time the metal will rust away, and by that time the coral will have grown enough to support itself. “I’m already planning to come back, and hopefully by that time it will have become a proper coral reef. Let’s see!” said Simon Havas, 16, of Prague, Czech Republic.