Reviving Reefs with Bamboo

Longfin batfish marking their territory at the submerged bamboo corals. (Photo by Jean François Marailhac)

Let’s go back in time: 1830s, west coast of South America. A typical day during the Second Voyage of HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin was attaching dislodged corals to bamboo sticks. He later found out that those corals were able to survive, unlike the ones he just left to drift on the seabed. The renowned naturalist and biologist—attributed by many as the first reef restorationist—had his eureka moment when he discovered that bamboo could be an effective substrate for corals to grow on.

Fast forward to the present: Philippine setting. Somewhere at the side of the coastal road in Barangay Balagawan, Silago in Southern Leyte. It’s not unusual for locals to see a group of men busy assembling what look like triangular structures made of bamboo. These structures would definitely pique the interest of visiting tourists or strangers; in fact, they caught my attention the moment I saw them online.

To cut the story short, I visited the place and stayed there for a week to learn more about these ingenious constructions. There I met Jean François Marailhac, an amiable French marine biologist who is spearheading the undertaking. He is the project manager of Scaph pro Philippines Oceanographic Research, a non-government organization based in France specializing in marine environmental restoration. One of their objectives is to develop artificial reef structures.

Through the years, artificial reefs have emerged as a critical tool in marine conservation efforts, aiming to restore and preserve delicate pelagic ecosystems. Interestingly, these man-made structures mimic natural reefs, providing habitats for aquatic life, preventing coastal erosion, and promoting marine biodiversity. Being a sustainable material, bamboo is gaining traction (and popularity) in the creation of artificial reefs.


Botanically speaking, Bamboo is not a tree. It is a type of grass belonging to the family Poaceae, which includes other grasses like wheat, rice, and sugarcane. Having a remarkable growth rate, bamboo makes a great option for creating artificial reefs as it allows for swift construction and deployment. Scaph pro Philippines’ artificial reef project is also a way to support the bamboo economy of the municipality as Silago has plenty of this giant grass.

Bamboo is durable. It contains a substance called “bamboo kun”, which is an antimicrobial agent that protects it from decay, pest, and fungi, even when submerged in water, or seawater for that matter. Its natural strength provides a solid foundation for long-lasting reef structures that can withstand the challenges of underwater environments.

French marine biologist Jean François Marailhac surrounded by Plerogyra modules. (Photo by Anthony Into)

Moreover, bamboo’s morphological characteristics provide crevices, nooks, and surfaces that replicate the intricate nature of real coral reefs. This offers various niches and hiding places for a wide range of marine organisms, including fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Over time, algae and other small organisms can grow on the bamboo’s surface, further enhancing its likeness to natural coral and providing a food source for marine animals. As aquatic life colonizes the bamboo artificial coral, it creates a miniature ecosystem that supports biodiversity and can have a positive effect on the health of the surrounding marine environment.

Pentahedron modules ready for immersion. (Photo by Anthony Into)


Aptly named “Operation Peace for Fish”, the endeavor is a way to “make peace” with the finned animals. “It is a response to overfishing because when you create artificial reefs, you provide protection for the baby fish and the baby fish is the future,” Jean explained. Being a naturalist himself and having stayed in Silago for more than a year now, he has done sufficient ocean surveys to confirm reduced size and age of fish and depleted fish population in the area — some indicators of overfishing.

Bamboo artificial reefs create shelter and breeding grounds for various species. This can lead to increased fish population. The man-made reefs can also help alleviate pressure on natural fish stocks by providing additional habitats for marine life. This can reduce the strain on overexploited areas.


It felt amazing seeing the bamboo artificial corals (called “modules”) in person. They looked like trusses ready to be installed for a traditional mini “bahay-kubo” (nipa hut). But they’re more than that. They will serve a higher purpose. They will be the homing grounds for corals and fishes—my sentimental mind narrated as I was looking at them closely. Around 1.5 meters in height, the five-sided bamboo structures are named Pentahedron modules. The construction process includes assembling bamboo poles by interlocking, each set is tied with a nylon cord. The bamboo tubes that will be in contact with the ground (eventually sea floor) are filled with concrete to make sinking them underwater possible.

Jean trying to submerge the module. (Photo by Anthony Into)

The other version of bamboo modules I saw was called the Plerogyra modules. Its design is pretty straightforward. Bamboo tubes are vertically split in half. The resulting pieces are further cut horizontally to achieve 10-inch long pieces. Then they are “planted” in a rectangular bed of freshly mixed water, cement, and sand. Jean said this module is intended for corals and it offers many ecological niches. “Its height and design will allow many species of coral to find a point of colonization without being far from the cement part, thereby preserving the coral when the bamboo disappears (deteriorates) after three years,” he added.


I had the privilege of having a chat with the Mayor of Silago, Hon. Lemuel Palanca Honor. An environmentalist in his own way, he confided that no one as passionate as Jean came to Silago to help protect their marine sanctuaries. “So I really understand now how damaged our coral reefs are, that’s why when he asked us for funding, we never hesitated to give him all the help as long as we have the capacity to do it,” he pointed out.

What they have is a ‘cooperation’ (Philippines – France Cooperation via Silago – NGO Scaph pro). It’s a collaborative effort. A partnership which aims to address the negative impacts of overfishing thereby supporting and enhancing marine ecosystems in the municipal waters. Aside from offering his moral support, the Mayor revealed that the local government gave Php150,000 funding to support the NGO. And just recently, the LGU also gave a new boat engine to be used for the operation.

A sea cucumber grazing near the Plerogyra module. (Photo by Jean François Marailhac)


Last August 13, 2023, I had the chance to tag along with Jean and two local fishermen to witness the first ever immersion of modules. With the help of an engine-powered outrigger boat, a raft full of heavy bamboo corals was hauled and transported to the Balagawan-Mercedes marine sanctuary. On that day, a total of 10 Pentahedron modules were successfully sunken onto the seabed.

Several days after the immersion, results have been promising. Jean gladly reported that “Twenty days after the first immersion, life appears. Micro algae, hydroids and of course their mollusk predators. A new life chain has just been created.” Fifteen more days later, he noted seeing longfin batfish swimming at the submerged bamboo corals and referred to those fish as “the first inhabitants marking their territory.”

Juvenile golden trevallies have found refuge at the bamboo reef structures. (Photo by Jean François Marailhac)

As of this writing, a total of 125 Pentahedron and Plerogyra modules combined were successfully immersed by Scaph pro Philippines at the Balagawan-Mercedes marine sanctuary. They are targeting to make and deploy more modules before they proceed to the next marine sanctuary. 

Ultimately, the use of bamboo as artificial coral reefs holds significant promise in addressing the ecological challenges faced by our oceans. By embracing bamboo-based artificial reefs, we can contribute to marine conservation, enhance biodiversity, and create sustainable solutions that benefit both marine ecosystems and the communities that rely on them. As we continue to explore innovative solutions to reef restoration, bamboo stands as a symbol of nature-inspired resilience in the face of environmental challenges.

by Anthony Into

Written by Village Connect

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