Vabbinfaru Lotus Project

In November 2001, the Vabbinfaru Lotus was successfully launched. This unique reef restoration project was developed under the supervision of architect Prof. Wolf Hilbertz, coral scientist Dr. Tom Goreau and Abdul Azeez Abdul Hakeem, the marine environmental consultant to Banyan Tree Maldives. The metal structure is two meters high, 12 meters in diameter and shaped in the form of a giant lotus flower. Designed by the specialists, the Lotus was built on site under the curious eyes of holidaymakers and the staff members of Banyan Tree Maldives. The scientists were extremely happy to find so much interest among guests and employees who were eager to learn more about this exciting coral reef restoration project and its background.

Coral reefs are the most complex ecosystems in the sea and often described as the "rainforests" of the ocean. All around the world and also throughout the Maldives, these rainforests have been severely affected by rising global temperatures responsible for the bleaching and death of corals. In 1998 record high water temperatures killed most of the corals throughout the Indian Ocean. Maldivian reefs, the best in the region, didn't escape the trend.

A method invented by Prof. Hilbertz and Dr. Goreau called "Mineral Accretion" now enables us to restore marine habitats by using completely safe low voltage electrical currents to grow solid limestone structures in the sea and making additional energy available for the corals. The energy accelerates the growth and reproduction of corals; it increases their ability to resist environmental stresses and makes them healthier and visibly brighter in color.

The Vabbinfaru Lotus is not only a visually appealing object but also combines aesthetics with purpose. It acts as a coral nursery, a "Coral Ark", that maintains a fascinating diversity of species. With its open flower shape the surface area is maximized, inviting the sun to promote the development and growth of the corals. Half a ton of welded construction reinforcing bar was used to build the frame, which was then carried by around 40 volunteers through the shallow lagoon and deposited on the slope of Vabbinfaru's outer reef. The Lotus is now located at a depth of three to ten meters.

As soon as the structure was placed in its final position, our team of specialists rescued naturally broken pieces of live coral that had been damaged by the waves, as well as corals that were growing on top of loose rocks and rubble. These coral fragments were attached to the frame of the Lotus by either wedging them into crevices or using plastic cable ties, so that they would not move with the waves. Around 900 meters of cable have been used for the Vabbinfaru Lotus so far. The electricity for the Lotus comes from transformers converting high voltage alternating current into low voltage direct current. It uses around 600 watts of power, which is only a little more than each of the lights on the jetty attracting fish at night.

Now, divers and snorkelers can watch the Lotus grow into a magical marine habitat - an incredible process. Within a few days to a couple of weeks, the fixed coral fragments are solidly cemented in the frame, as white limestone grows around them. Coral larvae, which are tiny free-swimming baby corals, settle on the clean limestone rock produced by "Mineral Accretion". All other forms of coral reef life will follow quickly, transforming this structure into a real coral reef, dominated by high-density corals and a complete and diversified selection of normal reef creatures.

 Now with the Vabbinfaru Lotus in place, another vital step has been taken to keep the rainforests of the sea alive and preserve those wonders of the underwater world with all their delicate beauty and compelling fascination. The project is all the more remarkable because what started out as an artificial steel structure quickly developed into a permanent and natural reef through calcium carbonate deposits and coral growth. The large variety of fish and corals calling the Vabbinfaru Lotus home is appreciated by divers and snorkels alike who can explore it easily by themselves.