Growing Islands

Self-Assembly Lab, MIT  +  Invena

Self-Assembly Lab Team: Nitzan Zilberman, 
Heather Nelson, Amelia Wong, Emile Therault-Shay, 
Bjorn Sparrman, Schendy Kernizan, Jared Laucks, Skylar Tibbits

Maldives Team: Sarah Dole, Hassan Maniku, Ali Amir, Mommo Maniku, Fahad Shiham, Drone footage by @AliAerials

MIT’s Self Assembly Lab and Invena, an organization based out of the Maldives, are working together to create a system of underwater structures that use wave energy to create sand accumulation in strategic locations. Over time, the goal is that the accumulation of sand will grow into new islands or  help rebuild existing beaches, creating an adaptable solution to protect coastal communities from rising sea levels.

As climate change progresses, island nations and coastal regions face a growing risk from sea level rise and increased storm inundation. With >40% of the world’s population living in coastal areas, it is imperative that we find novel approaches to address this mounting threat. Typical attempts to fight storms and sea level rise rely on static physical barriers or continual coastal dredging, which try to resist constantly changing natural forces. Our goal is instead to work with the forces of nature, harnessing them to build rather than destroy.

Together with our collaborators in the Maldives, we are designing, building and deploying submersible devices that, based simply on their geometry and orientation, can function as adaptable artificial reefs. By harnessing wave forces to accelerate and guide the accumulation of sand in strategic locations, and adapting the placement of the devices to seasonal changes and storm direction, our approach aims to naturally and sustainably reshape sand topographies using the forces of nature.

In February 2019, we installed our first field experiment in the Maldives and will be collecting data over the coming year to analyze the resultant sand accumulation. We are looking to install a second field experiment in Q4 2019. This is the first phase of a multi-year project with various field experiments and years of data collection all with the aim to create a system of submersible structures that can adapt to the dynamic weather and wave conditions and naturally grow our coastlines. We envision far-reaching applications for rebuilding and stabilizing heavily-populated coastlines and vulnerable island nations with our approach.