"Using renewable energy is not only pollution free, but we are able to site our reef restoration project anywhere that strong wind, solar or tidal energy can be harnessed," Gerardo Jose la O' of MIT told environmentalresearchweb. "Most reefs are located away from shore and running electrical cables can become costly. In addition, the electricity could be sourced from carbon-emitting power plants that add to global warming change and eventually cause corals to bleach."

So far, the students' First-Step Coral project has installed 500-watt solar panels to power the system off the Carbin and Molocaboc islands of the Sagay Marine Reserve in the Philippines.

"The main challenge for renewable energy sources is the cyclical nature of the resource," said la O'. "We are currently trying to determine what effect this has on the growth rate and survivability of the corals."

In trials in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, corals that were tied on to a BioRock system using a constant power source grew three to five times faster than native coral and had an increased survival rate. The students are hoping to achieve similar accelerated growth rates using renewable energy.

"The current plan is to conduct monitoring studies to observe the coral growth and survival rates in comparison to control and naturally present corals in the Sagay area," said la O'. "Once we have understood the replicability and success factors critical to BioRock, we plan on expanding the project to restore more coral reef areas."

The First-Step Coral project won $7500 in the MIT Ideas competition and was a semi-finalist in the 2007 MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition.

BioRock was co-invented by architect Wolf Hilbertz and Thomas Goreau, founder of the Global Coral Reef Alliance.