India’s First Artificial Surfing Reef…Works

| posted on May 06, 2010

Chatter of artificial reef development has circulated through the surf community ever since the first sandbag ominously splashed to the floor of the Pacific at Pratte’s Reef in El Segundo, CA in 2001. Pratte’s Reef (like the sandbags that bore it) never took off, but that didn’t stop researchers from investigating the possibilities, and after many attempts with varying degrees of success, something quite surprising happened: a reef was built in India. But what’s more surprising than the construction of an artificial surf reef in India? Based on video footage bouncing around cyber-space, the reef actually works.

Commissioned by India’s Department of Tourism as a multi-purpose solution to impending coastal erosion that would also “improve ecology” and boost the local economy through increased ocean-based recreation, the artificial reef was completed by ASR Ltd. in early 2010. The company, an entity with over 30 years of experience in multi-purpose reef construction, lists over 50 ongoing or completed projects on their web site including artificial surfing reefs in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand and most recently in Boscombe, England. While the two reefs mentioned have incurred mixed reviews online (Some note the fickle conditions their beach requires. Some say Boscombe gets quite hollow during peak moments. Some call both endeavors “failures.”), ASR Ltd. has certainly gathered favorable attention from the surf community after releasing a video of the lefthander at Kovalam.

So what’s the secret to their latest enterprise in India?

“It’s a multitude of factors,” says Chris Jensen of ASR Ltd. “Most importantly, the reef in India was designed to stabilize the beach.  Regarding the quality of wave, we looked at all the relevant data such as swell, tide, wind and sediment.  We then deploy[ed] monitoring instruments at the proposed site of the reef to get detailed data in order to design the reef to optimize the recreational component (surfing, fishing, diving). All of this was determined during a feasibility study to optimize the size, shape, slope and location of the Multi-Purpose Reef.”

Daruka Dasa of The INDIA Surf Club had this to say about the new reef: “We haven’t visited Kovalam since they had the new reef built,” said Dasa, “but we plan to in the upcoming months (pre and post monsoon seasons). Look forward to seeing how it handles some larger swell! It’s also a great thing for Kovalam in helping them prevent coastal erosion. They were really starting to run out of beach.”

Dasa also passed along a message from a member of Kovalam Surf Club, who recognized the positive and negative effects of the new reef. “Unfortunately, this year we had less surfable days because the reef only starts to work when the swell is above 3 feet,” said the Kovalam Surf Club Member, “but when it works it throws up a sucking barrel. When it goes off Kovalam now offers a good quality reefbreak and the level of the kids grows gradually with every surf session.”

According to ASR, it’s difficult to determine the exact impact, at least wave-wise, that artificial reefs will have on their respective locales because there are many variables to consider. “Multi-Purpose reefs act similarly to natural reefs,” wrote ASR Ltd.’s Social Media Director, Adam Daigian, using the avatar AdamatASR on the Message Boards. “They are optimal on certain conditions and tides and require clean swell and favorable wind directions to break well; just like any other reef in the world.”

While the folks at ASR have not revisited the reef in India since completing its construction several months ago, they are pleased with the photo and video evidence that local contacts have provided them. “What we have been able to see is that waves are still cleanly peeling over the reef,” wrote Daigian on the Message Boards. “And there has been a huge amount of sea life and marine organism[s] colonizing the structure.”

The surf prayers of a few locals at Kovalam may have been answered, but ASR Ltd. hopes to replicate its success in the United States. The company is currently working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to create similar results at Oil Piers in Ventura, California. The project’s timeline, however, was not outlined.

Ultimately, ASR Ltd. says it hopes to continue finding innovative solutions that preserve our coastlines, and the occurrence of artificial surfing reefs may become more common.

We want to promote the message that we need to continue developing sustainable, environmentally conscious solutions that work with nature rather than against it,” says Daigian. “ASR’s Multi-Purpose reefs provide wonderful ecological benefits and protect the coasts in a natural, environmentally conscious fashion. Considering they can be designed to produce excellent waves…we know there is bright future.”

Could this be the new face of your local closeout?

Could this be the new face of your local closeout?

  • Doog

    Snicklefritz Reef comes to India!!!!

  • Doogie

    A left? They would have quadrupled their tourism if they made that wave a right.

  • Paul Anderson

    The Reef in England came with hype but has not delivered. Research shows their previous reef didn’t impress surfers either. It would be good if ASR didn’t have a monopoly on the market – but instead had some competition.

  • Kovalam Traveler

    Kovalam means a grove of coconut trees and it actually started gaining popularity as a favorite haunt for hippies. Things have of course changed now 🙂

  • Branden Aroyan

    Very Nice. It’s amazing what we can do when working together.

  • muck

    The reef here at Mount Maunganui is crap and never works. It’s arguable that the fixed structure has improved the banks around it but they were good before. here’s hoping some more experience for ASR can provide the fix that turns Mount reef into a perfect A-frame tube!

  • Woodini

    that is SICK

  • Asher

    I surfed here in March 2010 – it was quite good!

    I didn’t know it was a artificial reef until i just watched this vid – thanks for posting. I think I’ll have to go back here next year.

  • Eric

    That’s a barrel for sure. I’ve seen good waves in youtube videos on the NZ reef. The banks are better also? Sounds good to me…

  • Pete Indelicato

    Asher, that’s a great comment. It really says something about the differences between surfing a natural and artificial reef break (or the lack thereof).

    I understand that, as the creases in the reef between the bags get filled with life and sediment, the wave will become smoother. I wonder if the local kids have picked up on this and created a “reef maintenance crew” that help keep the creases filled in exchange for some money or goods from the surfing tourists.

    That would be an interesting, entertaining, unexpected fringe benefit to the local socioeconomic conditions for sure!

  • Pan K

    Local kids do not like what ASR created and do not maintenance reef. They are poor people with minor knowledge and experience about surf and what makes good waves. For them artificial reef is simply too dangerous. It’s take off is just too steep for them. Also Nick Behunin changed gradually more cautious. There is not much water. You can see that in video if you study it closely. Time 40 s suddenly appears a white water spot in the face of the wave just front of the tube. That spot is maybe 20 cm (8 inches) higher than top of the bag, which are like gigantic cigars between each other gaps causing currents. Lifeguards have been more busy saving lives after reef project was finished and are protesting their less than 10 000 IRS monthly salary (some even no pension after 20 years duty) meanwhile their employer gives foreign company 76 000 000 IRS for what is for them just more dangerous work.

    Fishermen are angry. They are banned to fish on the whole bay, but policeman let them pull their net other end of the beach because they understand that those poor people have large families to support. Their haul has been less because some fish have moved to the shelter of artificial reef. It is just a question of time when local dynamite fishers throw their boms near the bags to get easy fish. Let´s see, are the bags unbreakable as ASR says.

    Tourists are not happy if they can no more hear fishermans singing and instead have to look out for lost boards and listen arrogant surfers demanding swimmers out of their way. And who benefit local tourist businesses more: old beach goers or young surfers ? There will be no doubt about that.

    Local kids would like the monsoon move the bags away and come back the pre reef situation when there were funny waves. Their rides on a good day are now shorter because more than half of the artificial reef is total crap (lighthouse point part). There bags are in uneven hight resulting breaking here and there on the same time. Impossible and dangerous part of the reef. ASR do not show that in their video. Instaed of that they show elephant which they cleverly brought soley for marketing purposes.

    ASR released also uncut 14 s video without slow motion on the contrary above to give impression of long barrel. Thank them for that. 14 s unedited film gives a realistic picture and how it can be surfed by a talented surfer. The end of the ride is worse closeout than before. Also the middle of the bay is now worse. The swell was on this 14 s film decreasing from it’s peak. ASR surfers flew from USA and were there from the beginning of the swell, which marked as a good 18- 20 s period swell for the whole Indian Ocean. This is what they got in 10 days. They had hired an Indian film crew to document all the time. Uncut 14 s video is pretty realistic about conditons when there is ok south swell and how it was before crowds. Unfortunately Maldives blocks better southwest swells.

  • steveF

    @PanK Interesting to hear the comments. I think the fishermen will benefit in the long term for exactly the reasons you point out. The reef will make the local industry more sustainable -maybe the fishermans kids will still have fish to catch in a few years-although I take your point about having to feed their families right now?? Dynamite fishing is a real disaster for the fisheries -its a very selfish act that renders areas fishless for generations whilst only making a quick profit for a few greedy individuals-if you know of anyone who practices this you should report them to the authorities. Also the “arrogant” surfers are probably calling swimmers out the way because they do not want to hit them with their surfboards -its very dangerous to have swimmers and surfers in the same area as fibreglass surfboards are a lethal projectile. In Australia we have flagged areas for swimmers and stiff penalties for surfers who surf within these areas. I look forward to seeing for myself next week when I get there.

  • dogbox


    I wholeheartedly disagree with your point here Sir. Have you heard of the tourism Booms in places like Hawaii, Indonesia, Philippines, Fiji ? there are massive tourism $$$ to be made from travelling surfers of any age. And contrary to your belief not all travelling surfers are young :o) Theres many many of us older guys who are still travelling and surfing AND spending big dollars for the priveledge. We now like our creature comforts and have the money to stay in 5 star hotels – unlike when we were in our 20’s and staying in $5.00 a day homestays/losmens/bures/tents.

  • Max Green

    I’d seriously question the validity of Pan K’s statements. The syntax is way to proper for the occasional misuse of words. I’m calling bs.

  • Pan K

    Thank SteveF for your response. I see You as a considerate person who will seriously think effects of this project. Therefore:
    When these kind of fisherman passed on the way back to their village Vizhinjam they cave bad words to some others from the same village, who were helping to pull the mat for the ASR and earn some hundred rupees (you see them in ASR released video). You can see here,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=151&cntnt01origid=144&cntnt01returnid=72
    how they reacted before as a group. Unfortunatually does not open anymore anyway in the net I use.

    Indians know very well how bad is dynamite fishing. Still some fish with dynamite and even think that they are clever. You look the people among Vizhinjam fishing community and you will see some young men right hand amputated half of forearm. Some have artificial hand and may not like to tell the truth hoping to get your sympathy and some donation and blankly tell you that they lost their hand in traffic accident.
    There are many people who have tried to report about dynamite fishing to authorities. If you go to the policemen to report they might say say go to the Coast Guard. When you go to the Coast Guard they say please go to the police. I have spoken about this problem with the lifeguards. They have said me it is a political problem. India is not an easy country to run.

    As an australian you have quite probably been in Bali and and maybe Kuta Beach. There are those flagged areas for swimmers. Have a swim there and you will very soon understand how poorly surfers respect those swimming areas. I do not see any reason why Indian seabathers should be more relaxed than swimmers in Kuta. This is India and people are much more ignorant about dangers of surfboards than people in Australia. Indians are curious people and sure they want to stand near surfboards and see what is happening. Lifeguards will be more busy and they are not informed in any way how artificial reefs will affect their work as a life savers.

    It is very good that you will be in Kovalam in a few days and see with your own eyes how reef is protecting the coastline. There was a tendency in March that erosion impact moves slightly from Santana/Adam area towards north around new police post and German Bakery like in this theory You might ensure how acurate is that theory after 3 months of artificial reef placement.

  • Pan K

    Dogbox if You had been in Kovalam you would understand that there is no space for 5 star hotel, if you do not demolish existing buildings and start difficult negotiation to seize bigger building ground. For your taste suiting hotel is so far away that I suspect any real surfer would accept it. ASR- people used Adam which is an ugly new building right on the edge of shore and in the front of sandbagreef. That hotel is a classical exempel of structure to be avoided if you want create a dream place.

    Dogbox mentioned $$$ and that is the point of the whole project. It must be money which has misled Indians to make the deal with ASR. Indians do not understand that India is not Hawaii, Fiji or Indonesia from surfers point of view. India is by Indian Ocean but it does not have same great swell than Indonesia. This was bitterly realised by those early travelling aussie surfers who came in the 70-ies. They understood soon where the surf heaven really exist and left India for good as a surfing destination.

    It is not only the question of proper reef. The Maldives Islands block the best swell. It degrades the consistency also in Sri Lanka but not so badly than in India. I strongly doubt that any rich surfer would change Tavarua barrel for shallow 20-40 m among dropping kooks in Kovalam especially when it is uncertain are there any surfing reef after the monsoon. If surfing sacks are in proper order and not broken, who rich surfer wait those conditions for very long periods as you have to do in India? Maybe rich man checks the forecasts and comes only for short periods like ASR-surfers did. How will those 5 star hotels survive with very long waiting periods on dirty beach, where same employer who gave foreign company millions of tsunami fund money does not have enough money to pay very modest salary for cleaning ladys of Kovalam Beach as happened months last winter and the poor cleaning ladys have to start to strike to get paid. I would like to see those rich faces when they smell the dirty of India. Let´s hope that those priviledged foreigners do not start to demand for their comfort exclusive rights for the reef like they have done in Philippines, and I think in Fiji’s Tavarua and some other rich man resorts.

    Any surfer who understands the conditions in Kovalam will also understand that people who might have lured to go there to surf are young people with minor knowledge about surf and not much in their pockets. After they get more knowledge they prefer to surf Indonesia. India has much to offer but unfortunately not much surf. Then you might say, how about Taylor Steele’s pier? That would be difficult to answer because I do not know his location and timing. But living so many years in India and walking long distances by the shorelines in every state of India I’m convinced that it is a seldom exception to the rule in India.

  • Pan K

    As anybody easily see english is not my first language and I have to use dictionary to understand your text. Max, when You are calling bs, what it means? Sorry, but the my dictionary does not explain it.

  • Alex

    It’s surprising the negative tone this conversation has taken. People don’t seem to realize how amazing this achievement really is. Artificial reefs have incredible potential for not only creating new waves but also for providing habitat for declining local fish populations. I’m not thoroughly educated on the coastal erosion argument but I doubt that an artificial reef would have a negative impact. I’m glad that Governments and ASR are willing to undertake such difficult but promising projects. And its even more exciting to see that the results are improving tremendously.

    Without being educated on coastal erosion, Its clear that India has some serious coastal development problems. Artificial reefs seem like a viable solution that won’t restrict access to the coast. Pan K, considering that you are from the area and obviously involved in fishing interests, what are your comments on the erosion and coastal access issues.

    And @ Pan K, what exactly is your argument and what points, specifically are you trying to make. Max called you out as a spammer, (hope its okay to explain) ie. someone that posts online under false pretenses. I find your comments rather suspicious.

  • Pan K

    Very sorry, I’m not Aravind Adiga who can write about serious problems in a funny way. My english is poor and this is how I try to give a realistic picture. Reality has also a negative side. If you move sand, fish or money from somewhere it is missing somewhere else. My point is that Kovalam reef project is a nice surfer dream but it is expensive experiment for Indian people and damages also current tourism. The only really good thing is that it gives Kovalam visibility which on the other hand is not necessary good for local surfers whose break is now in any case frightening swallow.

    Yes, India has serious coastal development problems. And its traditional way to build seawalls looks terrible but it is 10 times cheaper way and Indian governments have very limited amount of money. The question is where to invest and how. Thank God they did not block all the waves to enable watersking (that has also been a plan). The erosion in Light House Beach has been much less than other areas in Kerala. Tsunami destroyed nothing on Light House Beach. It is a pretty sheltered bay. The problem there has in last years been that constructions are now nearer the shoreline and how restaurants and lodges are in the early mornings stealing beachsand for their purposes. It is forbidden but law enforcment is very complex thing in India. If you look for a sustainable solution it might be there.

    I wrote here June 1, 2010 at 1:36 am (Surfer is at moment still moderating it)

    “Thank SteveF for your response. I see You as a considerate person who will seriously think effects of this project. Therefore:
    ….(comes some facts about fisherman in Kovalam and dynamite fishing there and how seabathers are respected, but Alex I delete now those because you might find them negative things which are better to hide)…”

    That time I wrote also next, where I do not see anything negative if the truth is not as such negative:

    “It is very good that you will be in Kovalam in a few days and see with your own eyes how reef is protecting the coastline. There was a tendency in March that erosion impact moves slightly from Santana/Adam area towards north around new police post and German Bakery like in this theory You might ensure how acurate is that theory after 3 months of artificial reef placement.”

  • AdamatASR

    Please do some research Pan K. Traditional seawalls and revetments are far more expensive than artificial reefs. They restrict access to the coast for the fishermen of which you speak, Pan K. On top of that, seawalls typically accelerate coastal erosion and only protect coastal property, considering the beach and ocean a nuisance to coastal development.

    Look at this video pulled off youtube. Its actually linked to ASR’s youtube account.

    The title is ‘Concerte Killing Kovalam Beach’ and it speaks to the unchecked coastal protection developments promoted by construction companies which now line 2/3rds of Kerala’s coast. Increasing human and environmental burdens continue putting pressure on India’s coast and the result is expensive seawalls that clad the shorelines.

    I highly doubt that anyone who lives in the area of Kovalam, Pan K, would actually prefer such developments over the artificial reef. And the sentiments which you describe earlier are not at all what ASR witnessed in Kovalam. Would yo be willing to provide some validating proof of your arguments?

    The main reason for creating the Kovalam Multi-Purpose Reef was India’s need for developing sustainable coastal protection measures and studying alternative solutions. Pan K, would you prefer a sea wall or jetty at Kovalam? Again, I highly doubt it. I find it unfortunate that individuals are willing to waste their time bashing a sustainable development that provides recreational an ecological enhancements while India has so many other severe infrastructure related problems.

    Furthermore, Pan K, you’re assertion that ASR surfers flew in for a swell is completely inaccurate. Both the 14 second video and longer Kovalam Multi-Purpose Reef video come from footage just days after construction was finished. And then fisherman banned on the whole bay?? So either you are from the area and are basically devising rumors or more likely, just another internet spammer with an axe to grind. Either way, extremely disappointing…

  • Pan K

    It would be intresting to know the costs but I do not have time to do any research. Anyway 16.2.2010 morning there was a meeting in which ASR showed their the new reef. That time very important politican told to representavies of ASR that Kerala government can not every time ask foreign reef makers to do the job because they can make the protection in their own way 10 times cheaper and he started to count over locations where they have built.
    It would be intresting to know how much cost groins in Tamil Nadu they built in Auroville Banyan Tree Beach? They do not look very expensive and they do not restrict access to the coastline. On the contrary they collect sand for fisherman boats and give nice shape for bottom of the sea. Certainly that sand is out from somewhere else and will make situation worse there. Anyway my point is that Light House Beach did not and does not need any unnatural creations. The problem there is illegality and when it is fixed the time will cure the wounds in a natural way.

    Nobody likes the seawalls and I thank ASR if it has succed to prevent seawall making for Light House Beach if Kerala Government have had such a stupid intentions. NDTV video
    show unfinished work 1,5 years ago when Kerala government widens beachside walking path and strenghten its ground. I think it belongs Kovalam beautification project and perhaps nobody in Kovalam opposite it now when it is ready. Maybe it would have been better already many years ago not to start it’s first narrow phase and instead push the enterprises little bit back. But that is the past. In this video you can see Light House Beach about same time without strenghtenig work and it shows the natural amount of sand on the beach. NDTV video is mixed from different beaches. There are many ugly cuts from Samudra beach (at least s 0:37- 0:38 , 1:20 – 1:22 , 1:28 – 1:33 and 1:50 – 1:56). Samudra Beach is much different than Light House Beach. It not a shelterd cove but straight line and has typical Kerala style seawall, which Light House beach does not need.

    ASR Director of Marketing Chris Jensen (natural) and Managing Partner Nick Behunin (goofy) came after the reef was completed. They were in the water 28.2. – 7.3.2010 and left 9.3.2010. If you want proof check Adam’s C-form. You can see them in the edited video Chris s 0:54 – 1:00. Nick s 1:01 – 1:07 , 1:27 – 1:31 , 1:54 – 1:57 , 1:59 – 2:02 and 2:14 – 2:15. Karnataka kid in the video s 0:52 – 0:53 do not paddle to the reef. He do not own a surfboard. Video is just edited so that he is immediately before the action. Nick is surfing the uncut 14 s video.

    If it is rumour that fishermen are banned on the whole bay it is in this case spreaded by your own people, because that kiwi looking slightly overweight lady with small baby told me like that. Anybody could see that during latest fishing season singing fisherman did not not pull their nets on the Light House Beach untill late season in the northwestern part of the beach. They can not fish in the southern end because of the artificial reef. You can understand their feelings here,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=151&cntnt01origid=144&cntnt01returnid=72 . I heard their bad words to the ASR hired young local men who you can see in the video s 0:22.

  • SteveF

    Pan K you have really got a good handle on the situation. First off I can give a report on the time I was recently there 1st June -12th June – just back on sunday to Australia. I did not surf the reef during this time as it was basically unsurfable. The swell seemed to have a bit of North in it – understandable as at the time there was a cyclone/almost cyclone spinning off up north near Gudjarat. Also there was away too short wave period for all but 1-2 days of the trip. Plenty of punch, but just peaks and closeouts except up the north/western end of the beach -there was some decent rights on a few days.

    I don’t want to sound negative – but I can’t see how the reef would work. Its too shallow and as PanK pointed out originally there are now nasty rivets between the bags closest to the rocks on lighthouse point. Occasionally one wave would hold up with some shape and peel – these were rare. most of the time just a nasty swirling closeout mess. Sorry to report that – but thats the truth. Never saw anything remotely looking like the waves in the youtube vid. BUT thats not to say it won,t fire with the right swell direction and period??

    Most importantly there was a development while we were there and that was that one of the bags came loose and was removed
    by a bunch of fishermen and a heavey grader. Everyone reckons that it happened naturally when a big swell hit a few days before our arrival. When we got there it was clearly visible flapping in between waves just off the shore line about half way along the beach – a real hazard. Also there was a part of a bag that was really visible down close to the rocks – might have partially lost a tie-down or whatever. The whole thing will need some real maintainence after the Monsoon swells subside.

    Also of interest to surfers is this fact – SURFING IS ILLEGAL DURING THE MONSOON IN KERALA. I largely ignored the warnings from lifeguards, who by the way, do a tremendous job of patrolling the bathers. All great guys and very dedicated. They would sort of turn a blind eye as I was out most mornings for a paddle before any swimmers hit the beach.

    One afternoon the wind swung offshore and the rights were pretty good and holding up much more than on any other day. 3 local grommets were out and I grabbed my board and was out there. There was a large crowd of Indian tourists swimming under the watchfull eye of the lifegaurds. People only tend to wade on the edge and occasionally go to waste deep – but there are really strong rips on these beaches, so as soon anyone goes out too far the lifegaurds blow their whistle and everyone must come in to the edge. Anyways the whistles were going off non-stop after a while and the local kids paddled in. I was out on my own getting a few nice waves. One of the kids paddled bak out said that I had to go in as the police were there. I had to do some fast talking and they explained the law, said they realised I could handle myself out there, but that seeing surfers out the back had encouraged the locals to out deeper-life guards had panicked and rang the cops. Basically I got warning from police that if I ws caught by them in the water with my board then there would be “police action”. After that I decided to pack the boards away and went to Trivandrum for a couple days shopping with the wife :)??

    Luckily we went Bali for 2 weeks before India so I got some great surf on the trip. I would have been a bit dissapointed if we had spent the whole trip in India – surfwise. I did spot a few other likely breaks either side of Kovalam and intend to go back India in future and do a real mission – theres definitely plenty of swell during monsoon – wave period seemed to be a problem. Kids reckon its best at August. My first trip to India – love the joint, I’ll be back…

  • SteveF

    @PanK – I did go over Vizhinjam fishing village a couple times to buy some fishing line, hooks etc. Yes I did meet some of the local fishermen and had a talk about the industry there and how hard it is to make a decent living these days, also watched the boats all take off at sunset for nights fishing – amazing site.. What amazed me most was that people are still able to make a living from the sea at all these days. A country that has 1.14 Billion people you expect the pressure put on mother nature to have depleted the ocean long ago – BUT I did see and eat some of the best seafood I have ever tasted -fish, crab deep sea prawn (scampi), crabs – its all there. I was amazed!!! So on the whole most fishermen it seems use old fashioned/sustainable methods. Thats whats makes it so important to stamp out dynamite and poison fishing – spread the word brother..

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  • its august

    well its august -wheres the accolades for the sucess of putting a few bags next to a point?
    The government officials have expressed concern at the cost and what it did and what else could have been done for less – so six months on -wheres the accolades?

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  • Temple Surfer

    Any updates on the reef @ Aug 2011??

    • Todd Prodanovich

      I was just there, the reef was destroyed by storms and the wave no longer exists. There is still a fun beachbreak though.

  • robbo

    interesting article, I hope they do a better job than the Bournemouth reef, bit of a mess!!!