Homes for the ocean’s homeless: IntelliReefs in the Halifax hub of marine innovation

Posted: March 2, 2022

Halifax has long been a hub for marine scientists and businesses curious about how to protect the ocean’s health while harnessing its power and opportunities.

When IntelliReefs set up shop in the city, it found not only opportunity but a testing ground. The company’s underwater engineered structures mimic established coral reefs to bring back life to desolate environments.

“Habitats like coral reefs, oyster reefs, and kelp beds are architecturally complex communities essential for the whole health of our oceans,” says Emily Higgins, Director of Ocean Science for IntelliReefs. “Too many have been devastated by human activity. But with the right material, we can encourage those communities to grow again.”

Starting with a deep dive into the potential of concrete and nanoparticles — grinding material to an infinitesimally tiny size to increase its strength when bonded back together — the founding team realized the cast stone they’d invented was not only a superior underwater construction material, but a master at biomimicry. In testing, the team was amazed to see corals swimming all the way around an island to settle on their concrete because it appealed to them.

IntelliReef's ReefShip modules launching in the Halifax Harbour at COVE (Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship).

“Reefs, and the life within them, is how the ocean self-heals, much like our bones,” says Melody Brenna, CEO & Co-Founder. “The skeleton supports all the soft elements and keeps us upright, supporting all the other organs to keep the body alive. It’s the same for the ocean. Like the porous lava and minerals reefs are made of, our nanostone is a biofilter that can be colonized by animals. It kickstarts healing, and that’s what the ocean needs.”

The nanomaterial stone developed by IntelliReefs is primed for the early stages of kelp coral and other animals seeking cues for the right place to settle, and the opportunities for its application are as boundless as the world’s oceans.

“Sponges clean 14,000 gallons of water every minute, and that’s just one species of filtering animals that keep our oceans clean,” says Higgins. “If we can give them a place to live where they’ll thrive, we can put them to work — they’ll deal with runoff at the bottom of a river, or clean underneath an open sea fish farm. This kind of innovation is needed in every climate zone on the planet.”

It’s an essential innovation, but a highly specialized and ground-breaking one. Halifax Partnership helped IntelliReefs bring global experts into the country, complementing the city’s already high concentration of PhDs in marine sciences.

“There are only a few people in the world furthering this technology, and we’ve got them working with us,” says Brenna. “The Halifax Partnership helped us connect to extraordinary people here — people who are eager to roll up their sleeves to solve a problem. We brought a different kind of challenge here and all the Halifax people jumped right on board.”

“The Halifax Partnership helped us connect to extraordinary people here — people who are eager to roll up their sleeves to solve a problem. We brought a different kind of challenge here and all the Halifax people jumped right on board.”

- Melody Brenna, CEO & Co-Founder, Reef Life

With backgrounds in concrete innovation and marine ecology respectively, Brenna and Higgins are leading a massively expanding market from Halifax. In addition to working with researchers around the world, IntelliReefs is partnering with the Oceanography faculty at Dalhousie University to perfect its acceleration of growth in cold water.

“As a building block of marine life, our artificial reef sparks the spontaneous settlement, restoration, and expansion of species we need to thrive,” says Higgins. “But it’s more than that. We can adhere it to anything we want - jetties, seawalls, harbour armories. We can address structural and industrial requirements and environmental recovery at the same time, and we couldn’t do that from a better homebase than Halifax.”

Learn more about IntelliReefs

IntelliReefs uses data-driven science and nanotechnology to build biodiverse, self-healing artificial reef systems. Their technology mimics natural oceanic infrastructure and can be tailored to site, species, and function to restore our oceans.



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