Natrx is teaming up with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) to introduce an innovative technology that aims to replace the commonly used, yet less desirable and less effective, plastic shell bags.
Traditionally, plastic shell bags have been utilized to bolster coastal resilience in low wave energy situations. These bags are typically filled with recycled oyster shells. However, the use of plastic in this method poses several challenges, as it tends to release harmful chemicals and disintegrates into harmful microplastics over time. Although more eco-friendly options like jute, coconut, or biodegradable plastics have been attempted, they haven't proven to be a sustainable long-term solution.
Enter Natrx - in collaboration with the CBF and various commercial partners - on a mission to develop a practical and high-performance alternative to plastic shell bags. Extensive research into natural fibers, coatings, and plastic alternatives revealed that fibers spun from basalt rock, a naturally occurring lava rock, hold immense promise. Basalt fibers have already demonstrated their efficacy across various applications since the late 1990s, and now, Natrx is working to adapt this material to create environmentally friendly shell bags.
Currently, this project with the CBF along the Elizabeth River is in its pilot phase, designed to put the material to the test in practical use. The basalt-based shell bags being utilized here are the first prototypes, and the primary objective is to assess their viability. Subsequent prototypes will follow, exploring a wider range of applications and possibilities.
"This technology could open the door for a new wave of CCA reef projects as we experiment with different module sizes and designs. In the future, we could conceivably create reef materials specifically designed to optimize each reef location."
-- John Walther, CCA Louisiana Vice President of Habitat
A Natrx project and partnership with CCA, The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Danos, and White Water Contractors in south Louisiana was featured on KATC 3 News.
This artificial reef project uses 128 Natrx ExoForms or "Cajun Coral" which were designed and manufactured specifically for the site.
"Located in about 20 feet of water, the new reef replaces that lost habitat, providing habitat for trout, redfish, and a diverse range of marine species, according to a spokesperson for CCA."
Preliminary visualization of a portion of a REEFrame permanent coral nursery immediately after deployment. Each 3D concrete printed module measures about one cubic yard. (Image credit: Natrx)
“Many reefs in the region are now so degraded that there is little living coral, collapsing to the point where they no longer provide shelter for fish,” said the REEFrame science lead Mark Hixon from UH Mānoa’s School of Life Sciences. “Unfortunately, many reefs around Oʻahu and other highly populated Hawaiian Islands now have few parrotfish and other seaweed eaters. Our reefs are in danger of being lost to ocean warming unless we help them recover with these interventions.”
“We are honored to work with the people of Hawaiʻi on this innovative and inclusive approach to restoring our precious coral reefs,” said Matt Ramsey, senior director of Conservation International Hawaiʻi. “We need to do everything we can to ensure that our present and future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of healthy and thriving coral reefs.”
Planning and working with local stakeholders and pending numerous permits, the team is proposing to build two permanent coral nurseries—each about 100 feet by 100 feet and about 6 feet tall—on a bare rock seafloor in about 55 feet of water about ¾ mile off Waikīkī Beach. Construction could begin by 2025 after specific plans, environmental studies and permits are finalized. Made of stacked 3D-printed concrete modules in organic shapes with many holes and overhangs for fishes and other sea life, the nurseries are intended to serve two purposes:
“Corals of opportunity,” which are living coral colonies dislodged by storms, ship groundings, anchor drags or other disturbances, will be attached to the structures for temporary keeping until they are later transplanted to areas lacking coral. The process is similar to transplanting nursery trees after a forest fire, helping to restore the forest.
By attracting fish, especially parrotfish (uhu) and other seaweed eaters that keep reef surfaces clean so corals can flourish, the complex structure of the nurseries will gradually be colonized by naturally settling coral larvae, eventually becoming coral reefs in their own right. A preliminary experimental study off Waikīkī by Hixon and his lab demonstrated the feasibility of this approach.
Close-up preliminary visualization of 3D printed concrete modules with corals-of-opportunity mounted on attachment points, as well as colonizing species beneficial to corals, including trapezia crabs that defend coral from predators (lower left), surgeonfishes and sea urchins that control seaweeds, and various fishes known to fertilize corals with their feces. (Image credit: Natrx and UH Mānoa)
“Essentially, the project will assist the natural process of coral regrowth by providing the structural framework that is needed for a healthy reef ecosystem. This is why we call the project REEFrame,” said coastal engineer Mike Foley of Oceanit.
“The three-dimensional framework of the nurseries will attract fish and corals, eventually becoming productive fishing reefs in their own right,” added Matt Campbell of Natrx.
The team will consult with local and cultural organizations during the design phase of the project, learning from ocean users, incorporating historical Indigenous practices where appropriate, and educating the public about the goals of and science and engineering behind the project. The team recognizes the cultural, economic and biological value of the Waikīkī region, and aims to minimize any impacts in helping to restore this valuable resource.
ClimbHI will help connect project organizers with schools statewide to provide opportunities for student and educator involvement, as well as partnerships with various industries.
“REEFrame offers a way for our keiki to gain valuable hands-on experience with leading environmental organizations and businesses,” said Julie Morikawa, president of ClimbHI. “We look forward to building widespread participation with this project from our local communities.”
The Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) will facilitate the permitting process for the project.
“This project is a positive step towards habitat restoration for the fisheries of our islands,” said Brian Neilson, DAR Administrator.
As climate change continues to warm the oceans, coral bleaching—where heat waves cause corals to turn white and often die—is becoming more common in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere. When corals die, they are soon covered by seaweeds unless abundant uhu and other fish eat them, freeing space for new corals to grow. Corals are like the trees of a forest, providing habitat for many species. No coral means no reef, no fisheries, no natural breakwaters, and no sustainable sources of new beach sand that reduces coastal erosion as sea levels continue to rise.
“NOAA is excited to be supporting our partners’ innovative efforts to restore coral reefs off the coast of Waikīkī Beach,” said Carrie Selberg Robinson, director of NOAA‘s Office of Habitat Conservation. “Coral reefs provide countless benefits for fisheries and coastal communities, and reef restoration projects are crucial for preserving the future of these important habitats.”
A recent living shorelines project we were involved in was just written up in the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal. This National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant-funded shoreline project made use of our Natrx ExoForms to combat erosion and provide ongoing coastal resilience. Check it out below:
SHERRY HAMILTON / GAZETTE-JOURNAL Betty Case, left, of Atlanta and Port Haywood received grant funding to help pay for a project to create a living shoreline along her property on the East River. The project uses new technology developed by Matt Campbell, right, president of Natrx Adaptive Infrastructure in Raleigh, North Carolina.
A grant-funded shoreline restoration project in Mathews is using a new technology developed by Natrx Adaptive Infrastructure to help create efficient, effective—and cost-effective—living shorelines.
Betty Case of Atlanta and Port Haywood has a long shoreline at her East River property, and she’s concerned about erosion that’s occurring due to wave action driven by winds coming up from Mobjack Bay.
A shoreline study conducted a number of years ago by Donna Milligan and Scott Hardaway of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science identified Case’s property as one of several sites in Mathews that needed shore protection, so when the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission secured a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to create a reach-based, resilient shoreline protection project, Case was contacted to see if she wanted to participate. Her answer was an enthusiastic yes.
Natrx is a Raleigh, North Carolina-based company that uses patented computer-based manufacturing to create custom concrete modules expressly designed for the needs of a specific site. President and head of engineering Matthew Campbell said his company focuses on nature-based solutions for coastal restoration. He said he had been in the business of coastal restoration for 20 years, and that “creative desperation” had eventually led him to come up with a system that could “do things more efficiently and effectively.”
He invented a new process for forming concrete, Dry Forming, which is a type of 3D printing with concrete, to develop structures that were a better fit for certain sites than riprap, which requires building a structure with large stones that, pyramid-like, is wider at the bottom than the top.
The exoforms Campbell’s company creates with the technology weigh about 250 pounds each and have rounded edges with rough surfaces and crevices that oysters like, he said. They’re made tall enough to break the waves before they hit the shoreline, but low enough so that sediment can be transported over them during storms. Water is maintained at the same level as the river, providing marsh grasses with proper nourishment. The structures can even be designed to dip lower in some places for fish to cross over, and the openings in them allow water to flow through.
One of the best things about Natrx structures, said Campbell, is that they are more cost-effective than riprap, able to cover two to three times the linear footage than rock for the same price.
“We’re trying to bring new tools to restoration and make the whole industry more efficient,” he said.
Milligan, an associate research scientist in VIMS’s Physical Sciences Department, said the long shoreline at Case’s property has different habitat components that need to be handled differently. The project, which has been about two years in the making, will involve placing Natrx structures in front of areas with existing but eroding marsh grasses to mitigate erosion by breaking the waves before they hit the marshland. Riprap will be placed offshore along high-energy areas that have already eroded, with sand fill behind it for planting grasses. The structures will provide substrate for oysters to grow and “hopefully become a nice oyster reef.”
Campbell said there appears to be a lot of demand for shoreline projects in this area, so he’s considering establishing a manufacturing site here as the demand for his product grows. Lewie Lawrence, director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District, said that the Captain Sinclair Lewis property in Gloucester that’s being managed for the county by the Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority would be a good potential location for manufacturing the Natrx modules.
Case said she’s thrilled at the expertise that’s being brought to her shoreline project and happy to be “an example in this area of what can be done.”
We're thrilled to have had our ExoForms and our patented forming process featured on PBS North Carolina's show Sci NC.
In this piece you'll get an overview of our 3D forming process. Unlike traditional methods that make use of "materials of convenience" like recycled pipes, concrete, or even old ships, our process uses a minimal amount of material in the creation of our naturalistically-shaped, coastal protection modules. And unlike any recycled or traditional materials that have been in common use, our ExoForms are designed specifically for the sites where they are used to break up wave energy and provide safe, beneficial habitats for local aquatic life.
Give it a watch for a closer look at how our innovative 3D forming process is creating new opportunities for coastal protection and ecosystem resilience. And thank you, PBS NC!
In late 2021, Danos completed four coastal restoration projects in south Louisiana on behalf of Shell Pipeline Company. The work will provide shoreline protection through a combination of customized 3D printed modules, nicknamed “Cajun Coral,” and advanced satellite image monitoring with partner Natrx, Inc. The project designs and installation procedures were tailored to local site conditions in order to enhance biodiversity and shoreline stability.
We look forward to continuing our joint work to facilitate effective, nature-based solutions and to quantify the benefits such as biodiversity, vegetation health and natural carbon sequestration.
“Louisiana’s coast is vital to our industry and our environment,” said Paul Danos, CEO of Danos. “Using technology to help restore the ecosystem, is one way Danos is living our purpose of solving big challenges for our customers and our communities.”
“Shell is committed to making a positive contribution to biodiversity in critical habitat areas where we operate, such as Louisiana’s coast, while delivering safe and reliable operations,” said Greg Mouras, general manager operations, Shell Pipeline Company. “We value Danos and Natrx’s support in bringing innovative, nature-based projects to life which serve both objectives, enabling important sustainability benefits, including wetland conservation and oyster creation, while protecting our pipeline infrastructure.”
In partnership with Natrx, Danos managed the project on behalf of Shell, including designing the technical drawings and installation plans. Danos’ construction team then completed the infrastructure fabrication and aided in installation on-site, in the marshes of Terrebonne Parish.
Faster and Safer Installs
The Danos and Natrx team developed the concept of “Cajun Coral,” a solution that combats erosion while providing ongoing resilience through the growth of oysters and marsh. The structures were optimized to allow a controlled flow of water to pass which, in turn, provides a healthy new habitat for oysters. As water flows through the barrier, oysters are nourished and sediments are deposited that encourage new marsh growth, support marine life and provide protection that grows stronger and more resilient over time.
"Cajun Coral" builds resilience and promotes healthy habitat growth.
In 2019, Shell GameChanger and The Idea Villageteamed up for an accelerator program, ENERGYx in New Orleans, to support startups and innovators with the potential to impact the future of Louisiana and coastal areas around the world. Natrx was one of the companies selected for the program, which focused on emerging innovative technologies for coastal construction and water management that improves the capital efficiency of real projects on-the-ground.
“The partnership with Danos and Shell Pipeline Company has created new techniques for adaptive management of natural systems in south Louisiana,” said Natrx CEO Leonard Nelson. “We look forward to continuing our joint work to facilitate effective, nature-based solutions and to quantify the benefits such as biodiversity, vegetation health and natural carbon sequestration.”