Visiting Gili Air, with its laid-back and relaxed atmosphere and lack of cars and motorcycles recalls the days, not too long ago, when the Gilis were an uninhabited paradise that were only frequented by Bugis fishermen and sailors who used the islands as stopping-off points.
When the Gilis became more popular with tourists during the 1980s, the effects on the surrounding marine life was almost immediately notable, due to the degeneration of the coral reefs surrounding the islands. Local environmental activists stepped in and started using smart technology to help improve the coral reefs damaged by human activity.
Delphine Robb, the manager of the Gili Eco Trust, started the project in 2004 with her own funds. Robb utilised technology developed by marine scientists Wolf Hilbertz and Thomas Goreau. The premise is simple, and draws on the principles of electrolysis. Steel structures were created and submerged in the waters off the coast of Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. A low-voltage direct current is then run through the steel, and when the electricity interacts with the minerals in the sea water, it causes solid limestone to start growing on the structure. When the limestone solidifies, it speeds up the coral growth, creating a breeding ground for local marine life.
The structures can also be used for the rehabilitation of damaged coral, and injured coral has shown growth rates that are 20 times faster than normal, with a chance of survival that is 50 times greater than it would be without them. This was proven during the 2004 Asian tsunami, during which the structures and the coral were not damaged, thanks to the open frameworks that allow waves to move through.
All in all, more than 100 biorocks have been installed all over the Gili islands, and this is now the second-largest project of its kind in the world. All divers visiting the Gilis pay a Gili Eco Trust donation, which helps with the implementation of the project.
Remember to keep an eye out for Gili Air’s own biorocks the next time you go diving with Gili Islands Divers, and please alert the team, should you come across any injured coral while exploring the breathtaking underwater paradise that surrounds this beautiful part of the world.