Virgin Start-Up Backed Company ARC Marine Begins Project to Rehabilitate UK's Damaged Reefs

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Still from ARC Marine's promotional video showing the first blocks in situ

Virgin Start-Up backed ARC Marine is giving everyone the opportunity to leave a legacy by helping to build an artificial reef which will help save the UK’s endangered white-clawed freshwater crayfish.

Founded in 2015, the Torbay-based company is building the world’s first modular artificial reef at Vobster Quay, an inland water site and former quarry near Radstock, Somerset, and is asking the public to back its current crowdfunding campaign in order to fund the structure and prove the viability of artificial reefs in ocean conservation.

Tom Birbeck, a marine-expert and co-founder of ARC Marine, argues that due to the threats posed by marine degradation, overfishing and coastal erosion, it is current, not future, generations who will experience climate change within their lifetimes.

“Protecting our environment and wildlife is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and grandchildren.” says Birbeck.

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ARC Marine's founders from L-R James Doddrell, James Murphy, Tom Birbeck (Picture: ARC Marine)

'Currently, only 4 per cent of the world’s oceans are officially protected. And considering that 93 per cent of CO2 is stored in algae, undersea vegetation and coral, it is clear that preventing marine degradation is crucial to protecting the earth’s atmosphere,' adds Birbeck.

'Overfishing is both a UK and global problem. 53 per cent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and 32 per cent are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion.

'It is predicted that at the current rate, all species currently fished for food will collapse by 2048. Ultimately, we are depleting a key food source - one that could be eradicated in our children’s lifetime, if not our own. We must do more to protect our oceans and our marine life that’s threatened by overfishing and other pressures.' concludes Birbeck.

ARC Marine’s motto is ‘Man-made solutions to man-made problems’ and that is where Birbeck believes the solution lies.

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The different block designs (L) and an artist's impression of a completed reef (R) (Pictures: ARC Marine)

The small Torbay-based company, who were given a starting loan by Virgin Start-Up, design and build artificial reefs that can block illegal fishing trawlers, improve water quality and biodiversity, protect coastlines and underwater habitats from erosion, boost the stocks of overfished species, and provide a protective marine habitat for endangered and declining species.

Much like the threat posed to Britain’s red squirrels by their invasive grey counterpart, the UK’s native white-clawed crayfish is at risk of becoming extinct in the UK within 20-30 years due to both the introduction of an invasive US breed, and increasing habitat destruction.

With the money raised from its current crowdfunding campaign, ARC Marine will work with Bristol Zoo to protect this crayfish population from extinction – using its first custom-built reef structure. Juvenile crayfish will be released into the completed reef in order to help boost their numbers and encourage further breeding.

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Within a few weeks the blocks exhibit a range of growth, including feather stars, sea squirts, barnacles and juvenile edible crabs (Pictures: ARC Marine)

To inspire people to take ownership of ocean conservation, ARC Marine is offering rewards to their crowdfunding backers, such as ‘adopt a crayfish’, exclusive dives in protected marine areas to show people what life exists below the ocean surface, and even the ownership of part of, or entire reef structures, complete with a plaque bearing the supporters name.

Elliot Thompson, from the Isle of Wight, bought part of the reef structure through the crowdfunding campaign, and will soon have a portion of reef bearing his name on a plaque. 'I wanted to give money to a project that meant something. Tom is trying to leave a legacy and believes so much in protecting our marine environment that I thought if I can help him leave that legacy, and my own, then we are both contributing to something we believe in - and that’s important. My contribution to the project will not only support ocean conservation today, but will last over 500 years too.'

Beyond ARC Marine’s crowdfunding campaign, how can they, and other ocean conservationists help increase awareness of the importance of marine-protection and encourage us all to play a positive role?

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Tom Birbeck of ARC Marine (back left) with Sir Richard Branson (centre)  and Virgin Ambassadors

Birbeck believes it is all about accessibility.

'We believe strongly in involving local communities, schools and businesses in all our projects, and we set-up citizen science groups for every reef we build. Ultimately, we’ll build a legacy of conservation for all life here on Earth, so that anyone can do their part.

'The importance of taking action today to rebuild and replenish fragile and dwindling habitats is well known. The sooner we do so, the sooner we will all be enjoying benefits such as cleaner waters, a sustainable food source, and a safe environment both in and out of our oceans.'

In 2016, ARC Marine were officially named as Virgin Start-Up Ambassadors and in February 2017, secured a tenancy at Brixham laboratory and a collaboration with Plymouth University for artificial reef projects. For more information regarding their work, check out ARC Marine's website and blog.

ARC Marine promotional video



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