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University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School Selected for National “Reefense” Initiative Focused on Florida and the Caribbean

Initial grant of $7.5 million funds Miami’s new ‘X-REEFS’ team to develop innovative hybrid reef structures




MIAMI, Fl. — Recognizing the value of coral reefs in reducing erosion, flooding and storm damage, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected the University of Miami (UM ) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science as one of the major recipients of funding for its national research program Reefense. through it programme, a team of professors from the University will help address threats to the security of U.S. military and civilian infrastructure along the coastline.

With the initial grant of $7.5 million, with options up to $20.9 million, Rosenstiel School researchers will lead the development of innovative hybrid biological and artificial reef structures designed to accelerate the protection of vulnerable coastal regions of Florida and the Caribbean.

Andrew C. Bakerprofessor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology and director of the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the Rosenstiel School, will be the principal investigator of the DARPA project and lead a collaborative research team that includes partners from major academic institutions across the country.

“Our mission is to develop hybrid reefs that combine the wave-shielding benefits of man-made structures with the ecological benefits of coral reefs,” Baker said. “We will work on next-generation structural designs and concrete materials, and integrate them with new ecological engineering approaches to promote coral growth on these structures. At the same time, we will also test new adaptive biology approaches to produce faster growing corals that are more resilient to global warming.

The overall goal is to develop, test, and deploy coral reef-mimicking structures that provide immediate wave protection and are also self-building, self-repairing, and resilient to climate change.

The new Miami-based project, called X-REEFS (neXt generation Reef Engineering to Enhance Future Structures) was incubated through the University’s Integrative Knowledge Laboratory (U-LINK), a program that encourages the training of interdisciplinary teams to solve pressing societal problems. . In this case, the challenge was how to protect low-lying, heavily urbanized sections of South Florida threatened by storm surges and coastal flooding.

“Through the U-LINK program and in partnership with the City of Miami Beach, we were able to begin developing a hybrid test bed structure that includes interventions to boost the adaptive capacity of corals,” Baker said.

“Our scientists are at the forefront of vital projects to maintain the viability of coral reefs that are increasingly threatened by climate change,” said Roni Avissar, Dean of the Rosenstiel School. “In addition, we are world leaders in research on hurricanes and the impacts of storms on our coasts. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring together some of our greatest research strengths.

Brian K.Haus, professor and director of the Department of Marine Sciences, is co-principal investigator of the initiative. He is also director of the Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN (SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere INteraction) laboratory at the Rosenstiel School, a world-renowned facility for the study of complex air-sea interactions of wind, waves, storms and shores. In collaboration with Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, lecturer at the College of EngineeringHaus used the SUSTAIN facility to understand the benefits of hybrid artificial coral reefs for coastal protection.

“Our SUSTAIN lab provides an ideal platform for testing the wave attenuation characteristics of structures as well as scientific instruments, new materials and commercial products designed for marine, atmospheric and coastal environments,” Haus said. “In addition to the hybrid reef pilot site developed with the City of Miami Beach, SUSTAIN will provide a large-scale test bed to evaluate design, test materials, and develop new strategies to build resilient reefs to protect communities. coastal.”

In 2019, Baker and Diego Lirman, another Rosenstiel colleague and professor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology, led the creation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Restoration Hub, a consortium of six Florida institutions supported by the National Coastal Resilience Fund of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Through these grants, Rosenstiel scientists and partners developed heat-tolerant corals and tested managed relocation and selective coral breeding to build resilience in Florida’s reefs. These approaches will be integrated into X-REEFS activities.

SECORE Support

SECORE International, Inc.., a leading conservation organization for coral reef restoration, will also take an active role in the Reefense program, with Miami-based research director Margaret W. Miller, Ph.D., also co-principal investigator. . Miller is a former research ecologist at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Virginia Key and a longtime collaborator of Rosenstiel scientists.

“We look forward to using recent innovations in materials science, hydrodynamic modeling and adaptive biology to develop optimized growing reef structures to rapidly implement coastal defenses adapted to a changing environment,” Miller said.

The Reefense research team includes experts from across the University, including professors from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as world experts in how reefs decrease ocean wave energy. University of California at Santa Cruz; structural engineers and coral genetics experts from Pennsylvania State University; materials scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Texas A&M University; experts in reef ecology, coral husbandry, and resilience from the Florida Aquarium, Florida International University, and the University of Florida; and chemical ecologists from the Smithsonian Marine Station.

Global engineering firm AECOM will provide overall project management support along with coastal engineering expertise that includes structural analysis and design of reef structures to withstand storms and sea level rise .

“Our Reefense team builds on years of successful collaboration and highlights our optimism to work towards a more resilient future, both for coral reefs and the coastal communities that depend on them,” Baker said. “Our X-REEFS team is well positioned for the early deployment of Reefense ideas and technologies, and we are committed to improving coastal resilience against the impacts of climate change, using approaches that support healthy and resilient reef ecosystems. Our future depends on the lessons we learn over the next few years, and South Florida is ground zero for testing these approaches. There is almost no other place in the world where you can see the value of this research on such a regular basis.




Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences


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