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Ocean Orchards - Rebuilding fish stocks for Communities, Nations and the Ocean

This project will build large areas of artificial habitat that will create millions of tonnes of new fish

Photo of Steve

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We are working on a project in Malaysia to create large-scale artificial reefs which will rebuild fish habitat in tropical waters This will help The Ocean Environment Increase Prosperity and Reduce Regional Tensions OCEAN ORCHARDS 25-hectare squares of depleted seabed will be rejuvenated with concrete reef blocks, sections of old oil platform and other fish-friendly habitat. These squares will in effect create mini marine protected areas. The squares will be laid out in a pattern over large areas of seabed with lanes in between that can still be trawled. The squares will allow fish stocks to recover on areas of seabed that have been denuded by trawling, and the lanes will allow large-scale fishing to continue without destroying the source of the fish. This hybrid approach avoids the clear-cutting / strip mining of conventional trawling and concentrates fishing in areas where it can be more closely managed. It has been shown that man-made structures such as oil platforms can be 20 times more productive than natural reefs in equivalent areas (Claisse et al). This multiplier will also apply in the Ocean Orchards by laying extensive areas of fixed Fish Aggregating Devices, providing a low cost equivalent to the vertical habitat of the oil platforms. Arrays will be installed in relatively shallow water, 10m-30m, where sunlight can drive the food chain. In the long term, many thousands of km2 will be laid out across the South East Asian Seas, producing millions of tonnes of new fish. TRIAL A demonstration site has been selected in Malaysia which will incorporate an existing rig-to-reef location. Arrays of concrete reef blocks and Fish Aggregating Devices will be built around the rig section. This trial will determine optimal design, quantify the species and productivity created by the habitat. Learning will be applied to planned rigs-to-reefs activities to ensure that the largest, most productive arrays can be built at the lowest possible cost

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The first line beneficiary of the Ocean Orchards project is the Malaysian fishing community The new areas will allow more fish to be caught in less time in better controlled zones. This fishing will also be sustainable, as only a limited amount of fish can be removed at any one time, maintaining the base population and preventing the ‘strip mining’ that takes place at the moment South East Asian fisheries are heavily extracted, as shown by the collapse in catch rate in Thai waters, from 300 kg/hour down to 20 kg/hour This results in ‘Fishing Down the Food Chain’ where progressively smaller fish are caught and stocks collapse For Ocean Orchards operators, who might be communities, cooperatives, businesses or other groups, this has potential to be a self funded steady, large scale, profitable business The wider community will also benefit from the continuing and eventually increasing availability of good quality wild fish Bycatch will also sustain regional aquaculture

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

This idea brings together observations from artificial reefs, offshore structures and fish aggregating devices to make a new type of open ranch system for fishing. This idea has been enthusiastically received by the marine biology community who are eager to see the results of the trial. Nothing on this scale has been tried before. Large numbers of small scale artificial reefs have already been built around the Coral Triangle / ASEAN area. In Thailand alone some 2,000 km2 of artificial reefs have already been built. There are 181 artificial reefs in Malaysia, and these are prolific sources of fish Usually Inshore artificial reefs are built to keep trawlers out and to help artisan fishermen. Trawlers would benefit from artificial reef type habitat designed specifically to meet their needs. The Ocean Orchards approach will build habitat that has vertical height, amplifying the productivity of artificial reefs while better protecting them from trawling.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL) This project is proposed by a team of three groups working together - Steve Willis - Originator of the Oceans Orchards concept - T7 Global - Offshore industry service specialists who have already installed a Rigs to Reefs project. - Reef Check Malaysia - A worldwide NGO that surveys the condition of coral reefs. Reef Check are a well established NGO in Malaysia, and would be the conduit by which external funds can be deployed in Malaysia.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In my first job I worked alongside tough Grimsby trawlermen. They were immensely proud of their heritage, but by 1986 they were working with me in the chemical industry because the fishery had collapsed. 15 years later I visited an oil platform in Indonesia and was astonished to see the huge cloud of fish that lived around the structure. It struck me that if the same effect could be duplicated a thousand times, and then a thousand times again, the collapsed fish stocks could be rebuilt.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

IUU fishing, Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are a significant cause of regional tension in South East Asia. This is primarily caused by collapsing fish stocks combined with growing demand. Indonesia has started seizing and sinking encroaching boats from China and Vietnam Prosperity in the fishing communities around the region suffers because of collapsing fish stocks. Modern day slavery is a known issue on fishing boats in this region The planet suffers as the Seas of South East Asia are repeatedly trawled and valuable habitat degraded. Biomass levels have plummeted as tighter nets are used to catch smaller fish and the next generation of fish are caught before they have chance to breed

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Reefcheck will be the NGO part of the team T7 will supply the project management expertise to procure the materials and install the demonstration site The Department of Fisheries and local Universities are also already involved

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Malaysia is blessed with large areas of relatively shallow, tropical waters which have the potential to be very productive. It is the ideal location in which to develop purpose built, large scale fish ranching sites to encourage the growth of fish which can be caught by conventional fishing boats. Malaysia also has a strong entrepreneurial base which can develop new industries. The aim would be to build a self funding Ocean Orchard fishing industry and for other ASEAN countries to do the same

Geographic Focus

Malaysia and neighbouring ASEAN countries initially

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

With funding, installation of this project could start within 6 months. Once the demonstration site is in place, regular monitoring will take place to assess the performance of the Ocean Orchard site. After 18 months or so, the next stage will be built as part of Rigs to Reefs or similar projects in the region. Learning from each round of evolution will be applied to future installations

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Luz Gallo

Hello Steve,
I find your idea really interesting and with lots of potential to impact the Malasyan communities. Have you consider to describe more the 'beneficiaries impact' more on the community side?

Photo of Steve

Good Morning Luz,

The intent of the Oceans orchard project is to restore, redevelop, and redeploy the heavily trawled waters in South East Asia which are no longer very productive.
This will become a large scale new industry which will bring employment, prosperity and food security to many communities around the region - by making a larger pie rather than by scraping over the last few crumbs

Photo of Asel Zoe

Hi Steve,

I'm not a fisherman but I see that your idea and its positive realization would affect many people. And the final consumers as well.
I vote for the environment safe planet and I wish you great luck and success in you work.

Photo of Steve

Good Morning Asel

Thanks for your comments
The Ocean Orchard proposal is one of very few projects which is scalable to the extent where it could potentially help resolve the fisheries depletion problem - by the creation of millions of tonnes of new fish.

I believe that we have treated fish as an extractable resource like coal.
The fish mine is now nearly empty. We are now faced with the much harder challenge of refilling the fish mine while continuing to fish.
To do this we will need completely new techniques, and the Ocean Orchards scheme could be a significant part of this new approach.

Photo of Kulaniakea

Hi, Steve, the idea is fantastic! I was wondering if you have done environmental impact study and community input meetings at this point. And what came out of it.

Photo of Steve

Hi Kulaniakea
I have spoken to numerous marine biologists, the department of fisheries and researchers active in this field, and there is great interest in seeing the results from a demonstration site trial.
Nearly 200 artificial reefs on a much smaller scale have already been deployed in Malaysia, and they are well received by fishing communities, to the point where they ask for them to be installed.
Before a demonstration, the actual impact is unknown, but we expect it to be at a large enough scale that the site will generate new populations of fish rather than just attract them from other sites

Photo of Muazu Musa Muhd

Hello Steve, I not only like idea but also respect it, this is a high impact project that needs to be given enough attention, and as Petroleum Engineer by training, I can really feel what a great project this is, but Steve how much in funding do you need to implement this? thank you.

Photo of Steve

Hi Muaza,
Thanks for your question
Once established, Ocean Orchards would be a multi-billion dollar business, supplying fish, work, revenue and food security to the South East Asia region - while allowing the rest of the sea to recover.
It will not be quite as big as the oil and gas industry, but will still be a massive and sustainable improvement on the current rapidly degrading fisheries situation.

To do the demonstration trial we need around $500,000 USD to install the new fish habitat and to scientifically conduct the monitoring.
Once demonstrated we are hoping to attract conventional investment money as the business will be profitable, sustainable and self funding
This project will not need NGO or philanthropy support for very long, just long enough to prove the principle.

The collapse of the fisheries is a massive scale problem, and any solution needs to be of similar size.
As in the oil and gas industries, massive projects are good business for large numbers of companies who are involved and profitable because the project is financially viable.
For the fisheries problem, the situation will be resolved by involving companies who can provide the service, rebuild the habit and stocks while running profitable businesses.


Photo of Steve

It is anticipated that the Ocean Orchards sites will recruit some corals, and where this occurs they will be encouraged by adding more of the habitat they have chosen.
The hard concrete anchors will be good sites for coral, especially as they will be in slightly deeper water of 10 to 30m where water is cooler.
The main benefit of the ocean orchard sites will be prevention of the frequent trawling of the seabed which destroys the varied sponge, soft coral and other life that will form given the opportunity.
This habitat, which may well include coral, will form part of the food chain that will develop in each ocean orchard squares.

Photo of Steve

You are right that the fish need a viable ecosystem to survive
The ocean orchards will be built to provide that ecosystem, rejuvenating the badly damaged seabed that is present in most shallow seas.

Photo of SIMN Global

How will this idea combat coral reef bleaching and decay? If the fish do not have a viable ecosystem, how will they survive?

Photo of jerry joynson

Steve, I think this is a great initiative. Working with the existing fishing fleets rather than against them builds support across diverse groups in the region, increasing the likelihood of uptake and ongoing success. Using a simple design that can be easily replicated by anyone and which produces a profit for reinvestment in expanding the scheme is ideal. Thinking laterally, sponsors might see the funding of trial as an investment that would eventually provide them with a revenue to fund their other ocean improvement related activities.

One could, in addition to this scheme, add fish aggregating devices to some of the existing larger artificial reefs in shallow waters, such as in Thailand, where there are about 2,000km2 of artificial reefs now in place. This would significantly increase their fish stocks at very little additional capital costs. Many of the local, coastal fishing communities could do this for themselves if shown how. I hope this is a great success.

Photo of Steve

Thanks Jerry,
As you say, this scheme is a solution in proportion to the size of the problem
Once a demonstration site has shown it can work, Ocean Orchards could be widely applied

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Steve, I enjoyed reading about your project! Can you expand on some of the tangible ways you envision this work specifically impacting peace and prosperity?

Photo of Steve

Hi Ashley,

The existing Malaysian fishing industry catches around 3 million tonnes of fish per year, generating a revenue of perhaps 6 billion dollars per year.
This level of extraction has already lead to a collapse in reserves, although demand is continues to increase.
We believe that the Ocean Orchards approach has the potential to double the amount of fish caught while allowing fishing to stop in other areas – improving the wider marine environment.
As this chart shows, catches in South East Asia have fallen in recent years, but not for lack of trying.
Catch per unit effort – a means of assessing how many fish are caught by the industry – has been dropping for years

If the Ocean Orchards approach was applied across the whole of the South China Sea, potentially 10’s of millions of tonnes of new fish could be produced, and a new multi-billion dollar industry created.
This would be a great source of new income and long term prosperity for the communities and nations in the region

From the Peace perspective, illegal fishing, the sinking of captured boats are persistent sources of irritation between SEA countries
Fuel smuggling is also a significant issue

These problems are amplified by the widespread overfishing in the region, along with the use of illegal nets with mesh sizes of a few mm which catch everything in the sea.

The countries of the region do attempt to cooperate, but it is difficult in the face of a dwindling resource. A classic crisis of the commons
However, if Ocean Orchards can be applied successfully, along with tracking of fishing boats, the situation can be reversed.
Countries around the South China Sea can work together on a project that will solve the problem and give the results they want – more fish, improved food security, and a whole new industry that actively improves the condition of the ocean.

Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack