ENGLAND'S ARTIFICIAL REEF: Construction Gets Underway

There were cheers all round today as a landmark event successfully took place; the first section of the first artificial surf reef in the northern hemisphere slowly rolled off a barge and was laid on Boscombe seabed.

The first section makes up one sixth of the volume of the reef and is constructed from a geo-mat*, webbing base and 16 huge geo-bags*. It has an area of 50m x 50m.

The first reef section was transported on a barge from Poole to the sea-based construction site at Boscombe, Bournemouth.

David Neilson from ASR Ltd, the Construction Manager for the Surf Reef said: "This is D-Day. We've been for several weeks for the winds to drop and today has provided us with the perfect conditions to accurately place the reef section on Boscombe sea-bed. After years of planning, it's very exciting to get to this stage. If we have consistently good weather, we should get the reef completed by the end of October."

The eastern-end of the reef was attached to five-tonne anchors on the seabed by a team of expert divers. The barge was then slowly winched along the reef site, allowing the section to gradually unfold and peel off into the water. Winches then pulled down the reef onto the seabed and SCUBA-divers secured it in place.

The reef is now ready for filling. Each of the 16 bags on reef section 1 will be filled one at a time. This takes between 1-4 hours each, depending on the size. Once this has been completed, section 2 (already built on land) will then be deployed and filled and so on, until the reef is completed when fifth section is deployed and filled.

To monitor the progress and view regular updates of the reef, visit www.thesurfreef.co.uk

Cllr Beverley Dunlop said: "It has taken 10 years to get to this point. This regeneration project is unique and innovative and is turning Boscombe into a fantastic place to both live and visit. The surf reef will turn Bournemouth into a water sports Mecca, as it will be a free facility to be enjoyed by surfers, snorkellers, windsurfers and divers. To accompany the reef there will be a new seafront restaurant, caf, surfing facilities and retro, super beach huts designed by HemingwayDesign. Boscombe is the place to be."

About the surf reef

Europe's first artificial surf reef is currently being built in Boscombe, Bournemouth and is set to put the holiday resort firmly on the UK surf map.

The reef acts as a ramp which changes the way the waves break. The reef will improve the quality of the surf and produce a right-hand ride of around 75 metres. As a result, the number of good surfing days will increase. Bournemouth already has an established surfing community, but the reef will draw more visitors to the area, enhancing the water sports on offer which includes kite-surfing, windsurfing, stand-up paddle boarding, wake-boarding, kayaking, SCUBA-diving, sailing and skim-boarding.

What conditions will the Surf Reef provide?

The reef acts as a ramp which changes the way the waves break. The reef has been designed to provide mainly a right-hand breaking wave of approximately 75m. The left-hand break of the reef is designed to roll down the reef and ‘clean up’ the short period chop that the dominant cross-shore wind creates. This will make the wave-face on the right-hander cleaner for surfing. This is similar to the way that the tight configuration of the piles at Bournemouth Pier results in cleaner conditions on the eastern side of it, i.e. the piles block the cross-shore chop (and the wind in this case).

During clean swell conditions with light winds, the left-hander will also provide a 20m fast ride, which will likely be most favourable to body boarders. This is similar to the Narrowneck Reef on the Gold Coast in Australia, and the Mount Reef in New Zealand. It is expected that inshore of the reef, better surfing conditions will also occur due to the changes in wave-height gradients caused by the presence of the reef offshore, which result in sand banks with peeling and surfable waves.

So, like a natural reef back in the Bournemouth area (e.g. Broadbench at Kimmeridge), if the wave and wind conditions produce small, lumpy waves, the conditions on the reef and surrounding banks will be mediocre and few people will be out. During clean, long period swell, the reef and the inshore banks would all be surfable.

The reef at Boscombe is designed to provide a grade-5 wave on a day with good swell which is in the challenging range (Hawaii Pipeline is a grade-8).

In calm weather, such as July or August, the reef will create a 'lagoon' along the shoreline offering safe, flat conditions for families and beach users.

Why is the project so dependent on weather conditions?

Perfectly calm sea conditions with little wind are essential for the building of the reef. This is because construction takes place in the surf zone and requires the use of heavy machinery and specialised equipment on boats and barges. Specially trained SCUBA-divers will be working in shallow water (3-6 metres) when deploying the reef. If sea conditions are too choppy it will becomes difficult and too dangerous to work.

What will the effect be on marine life and/or coastal erosion?

It is likely that marine life will thrive on the reef and there will be no damaging effects to the beach. Bournemouth Borough Council is working closely to monitor marine life. Experts predict the reef itself is likely to become a busy habitat over time, with marine creatures colonising its surfaces and taking shelter within it, developing into a haven for wildlife that would not otherwise exist on a flat seabed.

Although the reason for building this reef is for regeneration and leisure, expert opinion says that it may also help with coastal defences. Other reefs built for both coastal protection and watersports have provided good protection on the beaches. This is because the wave energy drops before the waves reach the shore. The delay in processing the licence for the surf reef was due to the Marine and Fisheries Agency extensive consultation and research to ensure the reef would not have a negative impact on coastal erosion.

Is the surf reef for everyone?

No, the reef will be 225 metres out to sea from the shore, and so surfers will need to be physically fit and competent to even ride out to the reef. Surfers will be out of their depth and the waves may be challenging. Beginners are recommended to take the advice of regulated surf schools to find out the best places to surf along Bournemouth coast. The RNLI will provide safety cover on the reef 364 days of the year. It will be free to surf the reef.

How much does it cost?

None of the funding for the reef and the Boscombe Spa Regeneration Project has come from tax-payers' money. The construction cost of the reef is 2.68million. Bournemouth Borough Council raised the 9.66 million Boscombe Spa Regeneration Project funds through the sale of an under-used seafront car park. This land was purchased by Barratt Homes and is being used for the luxury Honeycombe Beach complex. For more information please see www.barratthomes.co.uk.

What is the economic value of the reef?

A Council Economic Impact Assessment has suggested that the reef will provide direct income of up to 3million per annum. It will create an image value of 10million p.a. resulting from a variety of publications and media interest on a national scale. It would generate a huge stimulus for equipment retailing, surf-training schools, accommodation, drink and food and would create an estimated 60 full-time and 30 part-time jobs. A recent survey in Cornwall revealed that surfers spend 8% more than other holidaymakers.

About Boscombe

Boscombe Victorian Chine Gardens have been transformed, Boscombe Pier end has been demolished and rebuilt and the seafront is being re-landscaped. The surf reef and super beach huts will be accompanied by a surf retail outlet, a surfing school and a glass-fronted restaurant offering fantastic panoramic views of Bournemouth and the Solent. There will also be a catering outlet selling good-quality food-to-go, an RNLI beach lifeguard station, changing rooms, toilets and warm showers, all contributing to the major transformation of Boscombe seafront.