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Home, Sweet (Artificial) Home

  • Humboldt Penguin
    A Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti), a species considered endangered in Peru, nests on the breakwater. “This project proves that best practices for the sustainable development and operations of a large infrastructure can be implemented in balance with the environment,” says Ximena Velez-Zuazo, director of SCBI’s Center for Conservation and Sustainability Marine Monitoring Program.
  • Artificial reef end view
    Built in 2009, PERU LNG’s liquefied gas marine terminal is the first in South America. The use of natural material underwater and the creation of crevices with rocks, attracted invertebrates and small fish to the area, establishing an artificial reef. The reef is now an area of conservation importance.
  • A chalapo clinid fish
    A chalapo clinid fish (Labrisomus philippii) occupying one of the many underwater crevices that resulted from the creation of the breakwater. The new artificial reef has become important for conservation as home to a host of species of conservation concern, including Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti), Pacific guitarfish (Pseudobatos planiceps) and Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus). Photo courtesy of Yuri Hooker/PERU LNG.
  • Artificial reef side view
    SCBI’s Center for Conservation and Sustainability started working with PERU LNG on the Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment Program in 2011. This strategic partnership integrates conservation needs with development priorities to sustain biodiversity.
  • Fish living within the artificial reef
    Before construction of the marine terminal, the diversity of fish species was relatively low, typical of the soft-bottom areas in the central coast of Peru. But after PERU-LNG’s breakwater was built, the fish diversity increased remarkably. Photo courtesy of Yuri Hooker/PERU LNG.

About 100 kilometers south of Lima on the coast of Peru, an expansive community of marine invertebrates, fish and seabirds has taken up residency in a seemingly unlikely place: in the hard-bottom space created by a barrier, called a breakwater, protecting South America’s first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant.

Now researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Sustainability (CCS), in partnership with Peruvian company PERU LNG, are using a species-identification tool called genetic barcoding, among other tools, to determine which species have made this area their home, and to monitor how they interact with the habitat.

“After the breakwater was built, the fish diversity increased remarkably, largely due to the availability of new spaces to colonize,” says Ximena Velez-Zuazo, director of the CCS Marine Monitoring Program. “This artificial reef is a living laboratory where we can learn about managing a port in a way that allows a dynamic new ecosystem to function and thrive, while meeting economic development priorities. Molecular studies and conservation initiatives of this type are rare in the marine realm and will help us get a better handle on what species--including those of conservation concern--are here and how they can be protected.”

The researchers have just finished generating genetic barcodes for fish in the area. Next they will use genetic barcodes to confirm invertebrate and zooplankton species living on the new reef. They will also work with the Smithsonian MarineGEO network to better understand the invertebrate community, and will use underwater equipment to conduct surveys to detect elusive reef fish and invertebrates.

This story was featured in the July 2017 issue of Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute News.