Biorock – Delphine Robbe, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Delphine“I prefer to see Tuna in the sea than on a plate”Delphine Robbe, Agronomist, Co-Founder of the Bio Rock Project,  Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.

Delphine was born in Paris. She studied in France and Canada obtaining her Masters in Agronomy Engineering followed by fieldwork in Madagascar in 2002. After that she traveled for over a year and a half in South East Asia, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, Israel, Gautemala etc. and then came to Indonesia in 2004 to do a Dive Master and Instructor Course at Big Bubble, Gili Trawangan (Gili T). Here she met her present employer, Anna Walker who was instrumental in setting up the non-profit organization, Gili Eco Trust, with Anthony Clubbey and Maurice Stevens of Manta Dive. In 2005 Delphine founded the Bio Rock Project in Gili T with Foued Kadachi and Laurent Lavoye.

Recently Mark Ulyseas met Delphine at Scallywags, a beachfront restaurant on Gili T, to talk about her life and work.

What is Bio Rock technology?

The two scientists who invented Biorock Technology was Dr. Tom Goreau, a marine biologist and Professor Wolf Hilbertz, an architect and inventor of electrolysis. The discovery came about when Hilbertz was studying how seashells and reefs grow by passing electricity through the salt water. He observed that calcium carbonate (Aragonite) slowly formed around the cathode, coating the electrode with a material as strong as concrete. And as long as current was passing through the structure it continued to grow at the rate of 5cm a year. When damaged the structure could also heal itself. This discovery prompted Hilbertz to devise a plan to grow low-cost structures in the ocean for developing countries. It caught the imagination of author Marshall Savage who wrote a book titled The Millennial Project.

However, his focus shifted to regeneration of coral reefs when he met Tom Goreau, a marine biologist, who was working on the preservation of reefs affected by erosion, pollution and global warming.

The Biorock process is simple. Build a tunnel shaped steel structure in size 10 meters long x 1.5 meters in width. Then place it under water. Connect electrical cables to a 12-volt battery on the shore and attach the cables to the underwater structure. Through electrolysis with the salt water limestone forms and grows on the structure.

Coral can be broken off from the reef and tied to the structure. The electric current assists in the growth of the coral from 2 to 6 times faster than usual.

Why did you start the project at Gili T?

After one year since my arrival in 2004 on Gili T, I started the Biodrock Project with Foud Kadachi and Laurent Lavoye because I was concerned about the state of the coral reefs around the Gilis. There was too much dead coral, pollution and above all no one was doing anything worthwhile to protect, preserve and sustain the reefs.

I had earned enough money from my job in diving and I felt I needed to give back to the Gilis, to say thank you. This is my way.

What is the importance of the Coral reefs?

The coral reefs protect the shoreline/beaches from erosion by breaking the wave action. But most importantly the coral reef is the habitat of nearly 70% of the fish in the ocean. It also acts like a nursery for the sea creatures. So the survival, good health and continuance of the reefs are vital for all living beings.

The coral reefs act as a classroom for marine biologists; students and tourists to learn all about sea life because it can be observed at close quarters.

What are the results of your work?

I am happy to announce that we have regenerated nearly 1.5 kilometers of coral reef. I could not have done this without the help of the Gili Eco Trust, SATGAS (Indonesian Security Force that assists in protecting the areas from being damaged/illegal fishing etc.), the Professors and students of Mataram University, Lombok; And more importantly the expats and Indonesian businesses on the isles.

In 2006 we conducted the Fourth Indonesian Biorock Training Workshop for scientists/students/divers/artists from all over the world. There were 35 participants. A total of 10 structures were built and installed East-South of the island. Since then many more structures have been put up.

In 2008 we organized workshops for 52 students/marine biologists/diving instructors/Indonesian businesses and restaurateurs.

We are now registered to certify divers in PADI Biorock Speciality.

Recently, CNN  filmed a documentary on the work done on the reefs. This is very heartening as the international community will see how Indonesia is coping with its environment and help will come from all quarters.

Why do you like the Gilis?

No cars. No motorbikes. No dogs. It’s quiet and I can dive everyday.

Any advice for visitors to the isles?

Don’t throw toilet paper in the bowl. Don’t throw plastic. Save water, save energy. Enjoy Nature don’t destroy it. Don’t walk on the reef. Don’t collect seashells or coral. Don’t buy seashells or coral. As an incentive we offer one free dive on the first Monday of every month to those who spend one day on the isle picking up plastic and other polluting waste from the beach and other areas.

Why do you seem one with the sea?

When I was twelve years old I did my first dive. It was off Reunion Island (next to Mauritius). During this dive I saw dolphins, the angels of the sea. The feeling of being part of a beautiful environment and being one with it was so overwhelming that I had to become a citizen of the sea and protector of it. The sensation of water all around me caressing my body, the colorful sights of fish and coral and the silence…yes silence.  Swimming in the sea is like being an intrinsic part of an exotic world. Do you understand what I am trying to say?

Where do you think this passion and lust for life comes from?

My father. He was a pilot with Air France and he also performed stunning aerobatics. Unfortunately during one of his maneuvers he crashed. I was six years old when he died at 33. I love him very much. I carry him in my heart wherever I travel.

You are now a 31-year old, unmarried? Do you ever think of settling down?

Why should one settle down? Life is one fascinating journey. I don’t want to get married or have babies because I will die by the time I am 33, just like my father. I have so much work to do for the environment and not enough time.

Will you continue living on this island?

No. My dream is to live on an Eco Boat and sail around the world educating people on how to preserve and sustain the environment.

Do you have a message for the readers of Voices Today?

The seas sustain all life on the planet. Help us to preserve it by not plundering its natural resources and polluting its world. I appeal to you to become true vegetarians – no meat or seafood. This will help stem the savage rape of the seas, thereby giving us an extended lease of life.

“Mike”, the world’s first hydrogen bomb, vaporized Elugelap Island and other parts of the Enewetak Atoll on November 01, 1952. (The blast was 700 times more powerful than the explosion that leveled Hiroshima). In the half century or so since then humans have destroyed around a quarter – some say a half – of all tropical coral reefs, which are one the world’s richest and oldest ecosystems and provide vital benefits in over 100 countries. Will the rest be gone within another fifty years – or less?  – Http://

(Note: Professor Wolf Hilbertz died of cancer in Munich, Germany, August 11, 2007. The world has lost a true citizen of the sea. Many Indonesians and expats in Bali and the rest of the archipelago fondly remember him for his assistance on the preservation of the coral reefs in this country).

Gili Eco Trust 02 copy

4 thoughts on “Biorock – Delphine Robbe, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

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