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WGI’s Pro Bono Contribution to Building Artificial Reefs for Life

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Pro bono publico is a Latin phrase (for the public good) used to define professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment, or at a reduced fee, as an act of public service. Unlike traditional volunteerism, pro bono services use the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.

Why does the staff at WGI do pro bono work? I believe it is fundamental to our profession as civil engineers; from the beginning of our studies, we are taught to serve and protect the public with our talents and knowledge of engineering and understanding of the sciences. Our daily work lives are consumed by tasks and projects we do for a fee because of our knowledge and ability. We find those endeavors both challenging and fulfilling, and being paid to do what we love is the bonus.

The Artificial Reef “Pringles Chip” Module during construction

Over the years, I discovered another satisfying way to use this knowledge and I guarantee if you choose a cause or organization that is passionate about its mission, pro bono work will put a lift in your step and a smile on your face.
The Andrew “Red” Harris Foundation approached WGI a few years ago with a dilemma – it had a conceptual design for an artificial reef module that needed the expertise of a structural engineer. The foundation had been working on an artificial reef site for two years in the ocean off the shores of Jupiter, Florida. This new module had to be proven safe by professional engineers before the County would allow its use. All agreed the proposed design had great potential to be a successful model that would attract and sustain fish and new coral and seaplant life — but without proper engineering input, the County feared it would not be safe to transport or deploy, and questioned whether it would be strong enough to withstand the forces of hurricane-driven waves.
The modules were a unique shape — I like to refer to them as the “Pringles Chip” module
(the foundation calls them “coral heads” since their design is inspired by the structure and function of Bahamian coral heads). The challenge was to design something that could be safely lifted, transported, and deployed by barge without breaking apart and was durable enough to withstand a hurricane.

The artificial reef module providing a home for an abundance of sea life

Working with the artistic designer, we created a strong backbone and internal skeleton for the module, and a nice sturdy lifting hook. The modules were successfully transported, deployed safely, and are helping the foundation meet its mission of “Building Artificial Reefs for Life.”
Although we accepted no money for our designs, we gained some great new friends — both human and aquatic.
It was very fulfilling having the Harris family thank us and show genuine appreciation for our help, and it was amazing working with the artist and contractor who fabricated and deployed the modules. Everybody was rowing the boat in the same direction, looking for answers and offering suggestions. It was how every design project should be accomplished.
Round one was just the beginning. The next dream was to create a 17-foot tall replica of the iconic Jupiter Lighthouse to be deployed on the same Jupiter reef site – which is now guiding our aquatic friends to a great artificial reef home that might also help guide our human friends to witness a new reef come to life.
Being involved in this project was fun, challenging, and for a brief moment we weren’t concerned with effective multipliers and profit.

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