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Kathy Kirbo: Executive Director of The Reef Ball Foundation

The Reef Ball Foundation is on a mission to protect the Earth’s reefs through restoration, conservation, education, and more. The Reef Ball Foundation has over 8,000 projects in 75+ countries with over a million Reef Balls deployed around the world. Thanks to their efforts, 54 billion kilograms of biomass will be added to the Earth's oceans in the next 500 years. Learn more about their work here!

Let’s start with the basics— what are Reef Balls and how do they help reef habitats?

A reef ball is a designed artificial reef module which mimics the structure and function of a natural reef. Special concrete additives and a pH similar to seawater assures compatibility with marine environments and enhances its attractiveness to colonizing marine life. Designed reefs function better when they mimic nature. Natural reefs vary and for this reason, so do Reef Balls. Reef Balls are used for a variety of marine restoration projects, such as for fisheries, corals, oyster restoration, mangrove restoration, sea turtles, birds, and erosion control. Reef Balls vary in size from 1 foot to 5 feet in height and have a hollow interior to provide shelter and habitats for various species. Due to our simple mold construction system, Reef Balls are designed to withstand storms and can easily be made and deployed even in areas with limited resources.

Why is it necessary for us to protect reefs?

Coral reefs provide an important ecosystem for life underwater and are key to keeping the oceans healthy. They are often called the rainforests of the ocean and are the largest living structures on earth and the only ones that can be seen from space! The ocean covers 71% of the Earth's surface, contains 97% of the planet's water. No matter where you live, we rely on the ocean for the air we breathe, which is something people don’t often realize! Ocean plants produce half of the world's oxygen and ocean waters absorb almost one-third of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. The oceans also regulate the weather and form the clouds that bring us fresh water. Coral reefs protect coastlines from storms and erosion and are a source of food and new medicines.

What are some of the projects you have underway?

We have been working on a marine restoration project in Tanzania where we restore the reefs that have been blown up from dynamite fishing. We have similar projects in Masbate, Philippines, as well as a harbor mitigation project in Nova Scotia, Canada, and several oyster restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay. We have an oyster restoration and educational project with the Sound School in Connecticut. There are freshwater habitat restoration projects in Kentucky and Tennessee with the Army Corp of Engineers and an amazing project in Malaysia with the Sarawak government. It is our biggest project to date and it covers a 746 km stretch of Sarawak's coastal waters! The Reef Balls function as a barrier to protect turtle migration routes from fish trawling activities, provide a new surface for coral reef restoration and enhance feeding grounds for marine resources to grow.

What is the best part of your job?

I feel like I am doing something positive that is making a difference, and I can see the impact directly. Not only do I see the impact of our successful projects in the water, but we also help raise the awareness of the importance of protecting our environment through educational projects. I think getting the youth involved is very important as kids are the real ambassadors who do a much better job than we do of informing and exciting others about doing good. The best part of my job is that it affords me the opportunity to have a lot of different roles from creating and managing projects, to working with kids, traveling around the world, and meeting people from all types of cultures and communities. Through my travels around the world, I see we all have a lot more in common than we have differences.


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