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Providing vital new habitats for marine life

The Innovation

ARC Marine is the first eco-engineering company in the UK specialising in nature-based solutions and accelerating reef creation.  Their patented invention, reef cubes, is a robust and simple interlocking modular system that is ideal for restoring complex marine environments. Founder & CEO Tom Birbeck says:

“Pretty much all of our world’s fisheries are now over exploited, but our reefs can protect the habitat which many of our most precious species rely on. 

“Our patented design for each cube features an integral chamber and six passageways which marine creatures can access in the structure. Sediment collects naturally inside the cube and this chamber also provides an excellent habitat for many diverse species.” 

The Impact of Marine-i

Through Marine-i they received grant funding, technical advice, and access to University of Plymouth’s COAST Lab facilities, where they could carry out an exhaustive range of tests that closely mirror real-life ocean conditions. Proving the performance of reef cubes was a vital step in gaining the confidence of customers and helping the product to fulfil its global potential.

A Rapid Innovation Grant was used to purchase vital diving equipment for conducting vital sea trials, while Marine-i events have provided valuable new learning for their team. Tom says:

“This grant enabled us to carry out extended surveys and eco-mooring installation trials in preparation for a full commercial launch.”

Industry Recognition

In the 2019 Maritime UK Awards, ARC Marine was named Best Start-up of the Year. In 2020, reef cubes were presented by the World Economic Forum as a sustainable way of repairing some of the damage done to marine habitats by human activities at sea. In his presentation, Tom Birbeck said:

“Reef cubes accelerate reef creation and help repair ecosystems that have been destroyed from centuries of bottom trawling and dredging. The global increase in offshore wind demand provides an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild rocky reef habitats around offshore construction projects which historically have caused damage and often deploy toxic and plastic-laden materials.”

The company has now secured investment totalling £2.5m, appointed additional board members with track records in scaling and exiting businesses and received grants from DEFRA and Innovate UK for aquaculture related pilot-projects. It also won recognition at the Rich North Sea Innovation Competition for Oyster Restoration in the depleted Dutch Sector. 

ARC Marine won the Innovation Award and Marine Tech Award at Tech South West 2021 as well as the Offshore Achievement award for emerging technology. They also won the RWE Innovation Ecology award in 2022.

Tom Birbeck says: “ARC Marine has developed such a depth of expertise that we now have ambitions to become a global leader in marine eco-engineering and conservation projects. We also believe that, as well as being a huge commercial opportunity, reef cubes will deliver a lasting benefit for the world’s marine ecosystems. Our goal is to create the largest man-made reef network throughout the world.” 

In December 2022, the company announced that the first batch of ARC Marine’s intertidal reef cubes had been installed at a breakwater in Newlyn, as part of an Environment Agency trial project. They will protect the coastline and local community from powerful breaking waves, whilst providing habitats for marine life in the intertidal zone, with a design that mimics the natural complexities found at the shoreline.

[Image: ARC Marine]