Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Coastal Technologies Corp.

What is the name of your solution?

A Game-Changing Oyster Reef Building Technology

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

A technology that allows almost instant oyster reef creation and avoids the inherent bottlenecks and difficulties of standard methods which severely limit vital reef building goals.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

The problem our company, Coastal Technologies Corp, is addressing concerns the unmet worldwide need for oysters. Building new oyster reefs is the single most important goal for coastal resilience and pollution remediation, but only a diminutive amount of what is needed can be deployed. 

Furthermore, current oyster reef building methods suffer an extremely high failure rate.  Up to 85% of man-made oyster reefs fail to take hold. Of eight oyster reef projects funded by the Deepwater Horizon settlement, none succeeded. Research by The Pew Trust identified several causes for these failures. Unfortunately these causes are ingrained into current reef building techniques. 

This means that we have not only failed in building enough oyster reef, but what we do manage to build typically fails. Not only are tremendous costs, time and back-breaking labor wasted, but we are not reaping the environmental benefits that we are all counting on. The current paradigm to restore oysters is untenable, while we lose reef at an ever increasing pace. 

This has dramatic local, national and global implications. In our area, fishkills in the Long Island Sound have increased from a yearly average of 5, to over 50. Studies show that fishkills negatively impact the mental health of entire communities and lowers home values by 30%. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, with oyster beds efficiently removing the excess nutrients that cause toxic algae blooms. 

Nationally this issue not only deprives underserved and native peoples of ocean sustenance, but it causes important cultural traditions to disappear and severs historic relationships with the ocean. 

The scale of this problem is compounded globally. 40% of the world’s population lives in coastal areas, many in poverty and in constant danger from coastal erosion and storm surge flooding. Oyster reef is one of the most effective natural wave breaks, adding tremendous coastal resilience while reversing local effects of sea level rise by building back shorelines. 

We, at Coastal Technologies, are dedicated to developing new and innovative coastal resilience and restoration solutions. We began by researching standard methods and products to identify their points of weakness. We determined that these systems are based on assumptions that humans can overpower natural forces. This is the figurative “broken pedestal” that current coastal systems have been built on to this day. It should therefore be no surprise that they paradoxically exacerbate the very problems they are marketed to solve. We believe it's time for a fundamental change. 

Our solutions work with nature and are inspired by how plants have evolved over 500 million years to influence their environment. We have taken this engineering approach and developed an oyster reef system that works with nature, can be easily deployed and that circumvents the failure points of standard oyster building products and methods.

What is your solution?

Our company, Coastal Technologies Corp (CTC) has developed nature-inspired solutions to address vital coastal resilience and remediation needs. Our Oyster Reef Building system is designed to vastly increase the capacity to construct man-made oyster reefs. 

It functions by allowing the easy installation of a stainless steel base corkscrew armatures, which are driven into sediments by use of a battery-powered tool or a simple hand wrench. The armature supports a number of stone plates, which serve as the natural habitat for oysters to colonize and grow. Pull-tests, during field testing, have determined that this simple engineering permanently secures the device while still allowing unscrewing removal and repositioning if desired. 

Our system provides distinct advantages over currently used methods. Installation of a single device can be performed in seconds. Standard methods of reef building require processing used oyster shells collected from restaurant use. This long process is further delayed by a year of outdoor curing of the shell. Shoveling shells into plastic mesh bags, transportation, and even the use of cranes, are laborious and limit the amount of reef that can be deployed. 

The ease of installation, paired with its high surface area per device, allows a greater area of oyster reef to be created than ever before. Our Oyster Reef Building system comes with additional benefits. Coastal mudflats are important ecosystems that are often disturbed or replaced by man-made oyster reefs. CTC’s coil allows the sediment layer to remain intact, and since the oyster habitat plates are raised off the seafloor, both important bottom habitats are preserved. Our system only adds heterogeneity without subtracting any. 

The stone plates slide onto the pole and are separated by spacers, which can vary in height, as necessary. These plates are designed to be colonized by free-swimming wild oyster larvae or artificially populated in oyster setting tanks. The plates have a large surface area, and position oysters above the seafloor, and throughout the water column. 

The inherent drawback with standard oyster reef systems is that they all position oysters on the seafloor. This allows easy predator access, which decimate oyster spat before then can establish. Additionally, these reefs sink into mud through subsidence and siltation, and stratification leads to conditions such as hypoxia at the seafloor. 

These factors affecting current reef building systems leads to high failure rates and has led scientists to recommend oyster reefs be raised off the seafloor. Our system takes modern research and applies it in a practical way. Raising oysters off the seafloor has additional benefits. Vertical diversity makes the entire reef more resilient to unpredictable conditions. They are “climate change proof”, since any additional height added to the central pole will allow the plates to be raised upwards to account for rising sea levels. 

Mass production of this technology can have profound impacts on our ability to restore health to our shorelines and the communities they support. 

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our company, Coastal Technologies Corp’s, (CTC) solution would benefit vulnerable coastal communities anywhere in the world. Oysters are considered “ecosystem engineers”, meaning they create the physical ecosystem that the rest of the food web depends on. This has both biological and geographical implications. Oyster reefs are hard structures that cement to each other and build structural complexity. In this way, they block wave energy and protect coastlines from erosion. Many coastal communities are at great risk from rising sea levels and increased storm energy. Some of the most culturally important communities in America are most at risk from these forces. 

Many underserved people live in low-lying regions where strengthening of coastal resilience will save lives. “Oyster reefs protect shorelines from wave erosion naturally,” says Antonio Rodriguez, a professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Isle De Saint Charles in Southern Louisiana, home to the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, is a primary example of this. The island this community inhabited was once 22,000 acres, but today just over 300 acres remain. Storm erosion, along with damage caused by industrial oil drilling, are some of the primary contributors to this land loss, and as a result major relocation efforts are currently underway, in a last ditch effort to save the community. This is a severe example, but similar stories are playing out all across coastal areas. Stable reef systems are a necessary component to fortifying these coastlines. 

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians harvest oysters as a major food source, and this culinary tradition goes back thousands of years. Our technology allows easy harvesting, and plates can be returned to grow more oysters after harvest. The ability to transport devices, high oyster yield, and continuous harvesting ability makes these ideal tools in providing consistent, high quality food sources for coastal communities. 

Another problem facing the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians comes in the form of water pollution. The gulf of Mexico suffers from frequent oil spills, and is also home to the world's largest “dead zone”: large areas of oxygen-poor waters that suffocate life forms. These dead zones are created by algal blooms subsisting off fertilizers being ejected from the Mississippi River, and these algae frequently produce toxins in huge quantities. One oyster can filter up to 30 gallons of water in a day. In this way, oysters are considered the most effective way to restore clean coastal waters. Any coastal communities which utilize food harvested from the ocean would directly benefit from this water filtration.

In a similar vein, oysters promote larger ecosystems as well. Oyster reefs are natural habitats from myriad aquatic species. Shrimp, crabs, small and large fish, all the way up to water birds benefit from healthy oyster populations. Therefore, establishing our technologies in coastal waters would have cascading positive impacts in other fishing markets. Crabbers, shrimpers and fishermen would all see greater yields resulting from the addition of this incredibly rich habitat.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Our startup, Coastal Technologies Corp (CTC), was founded with a deep respect for nature. Ideas that informed our technologies were seeded while volunteering to plant marsh grass at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It was there we learned that wetland grasses had an amazing ability to absorb storm surge and pondered if this superpower could be replicated for social and environmental good. 

Wetland restoration was one of countless causes important to us. It is ingrained, as is our dedication to social justice and community service. Whether it is registering voters or cleaning a beach, we understand environmental and social justice as being one.

Hurricane Sandy hit our region hard, with barrier islands such as The Rockaways taking the full brunt. Many in this community are underserved, with a high percentage of elderly individuals. Nick, our CEO, purchased an impossible to find generator and drove out-of-state daily to fill gasoline containers, all donated directly to those in need. He spent weeks volunteering to dig out homes that had been filled with sand.

Coastal erosion, sea level rise and climate change amplified the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. Poverty and lack of community resources made the upheaval worse. But this disaster also brought back old ideas. We once again contemplated whether it was possible to deploy an “artificial wetland”  that could protect vulnerable communities in advance of a storm.

The importance of environmental and social issues influenced Team Lead George Thatos’ choice to study environmental science at Tulane. While there, he worked closely with unserved people in Southern Louisiana. Communities there suffer high-levels of air pollution caused by inefficient power plants and toxic sites. High rates of respiratory disease and cancer has led this area to be known as “Cancer Alley”. After years of community protests, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality finally erected an air quality station to measure daily pollutant levels. However, this data was highly technical. George worked with local community activists to develop a website that processed this data and presented it in an easy-to-understand manner. This offered people greater control over their bodily autonomy.  

New Orleans is the poster child for economic disparity, which Hurricane Katrina exposed to the world. CTC is in discussions with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) to use our system to help restore oyster reefs with the Point-Au-Chein Tribe. This low-lying coastal area’s population is at major risk from storm surge. Building protective oyster reefs would not only mitigate storm surge but reestablish cultural traditions regarding the harvesting of oysters. Working with tribal leaders and local activists ensures that stakeholders are engaged and that their work and involvement creates opportunities and fosters self-determination.  

Our life experiences, paired with technical expertise, uniquely position CTC to create solutions that are grounded in community engagement and input. Years of field experience position us to see nature not as a problem, but as the only viable solution. We have what is necessary to bring these new solutions to where they are most needed.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Adapt land and coastal areas to more extreme weather, including through climate-smart agriculture or restoring natural ecosystems to mitigate impacts.

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Long Island, New York

In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • United States

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model, but which is not yet serving anyone

Please share details about what makes your solution a Prototype rather than a Concept.

We, at CTC, have taken our Oyster Reef Building system from concept to prototype with extensive interviews, data collection, and engineering refinements over two years of research and field testing. We have produced a functioning, tested prototype, and conducted two successful POC test deployments with products sharing similar technological aspects. The innovative coil-attachment method is shared with other products we have been successfully pilot tested. 

In addition, we have consulted with engineers, coastal restoration NGOs and other stakeholders to specify its characteristics and validate that it is valuable and usable. Several NGOs and academic institutions are willing to conduct field testing. These include the Virginia Tech Seafood AREC, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Hampton’s College, The North Carolina Coastal Federation and several others. We expect to establish a validated, viable product by this Fall. 

We have produced fully realized engineered shop drawings and 3D renderings. Our production team has traveled to Taiwan to tour facilities, working with their engineers to confirm specifications, establish price and lead-times. 

A full-scale Oyster Reef Builder prototype has been temporarily deployed in the field to observe tidal effects on armature stability and plate durability. This prototype functioned exactly as designed. It will be the model for plate-material variation testing and data analysis by independent academic institutions, NGO and stakeholder partners.

We strongly believe this product will succeed in the value prop, which is for end-users to quickly and easily establish high quality oyster reef at scale. If we are accepted into Solve, the potential to advance the Oyster Reef Builder product from MVP through regulatory approval to market-ready will be greatly enhanced.

How many people does your solution currently serve?

Our Oyster Reef Building system is in the prototype phase. As such it is not yet serving people or communities. We hope to remedy this soon. 

Fortunately, we have commitments from Virginia Tech, VIMS and various NGOs across the country to participate in trials. We believe successful Proof of Concept trials will lead to system validation and larger projects. Our goals include deployments to support and engage vulnerable communities to restore their reefs for shore-building and oyster harvesting. 

Possible areas for testing include Point-au-Chein Lousisana and Down East, North Carolina.  Potential collaborators in Down East are Duke, UNC, and NC State via the county's Marine Science Education Partnership, and East Carolina University. 

Down East communities have been historically isolated, living on lands profoundly impacted by sea level rise. Marshes they depend on have been systematically degraded by both manmade and natural processes. Successful restoration of oyster reefs there would be of great benefit to the community. 

Stakeholders will be involved in every aspect of designing the trials, installation of devices, monitoring and data collection. As trials move to approvals and wider implementation, our goal would be to train and work with individuals from the communities where CTC restoration and resilience systems are being implemented. The value of any environmental initiative is greatly enhanced when stakeholders have input and self-determination and is an equal part of how we will measure success.

Why are you applying to Solve?

We are applying to Solve for assistance, mentoring and support. One of our difficulties has been to find advisors that can be trusted. Some have had agendas or offer advice that is of superficial value. Gaining access to industry leaders, and especially peers experiencing the same challenges we are, would allow Coastal Technologies Corp (CTC) to tap into trusted and actionable advice.  

Solve’s focus on an optimistic, human-centered, community positive search for innovation solutions align with our mission and core values. Being connected with other startups with prosocial missions will be inspiring. 

The challenge to market a system designed to be deployed in the coastal zone, with no similarities to currently approved products, is massive. Paradoxically, it is easier to obtain a permit to dredge or install a hard barrier than for a living shoreline solution. We will need expert support to develop multileveled strategies to navigate the myriad of local, state and national regulations and to devise ways to partner with large governmental agencies such as the USACE and NOAA.  

Fundraising has been difficult. While there is initial investor interest, they eventually decide that profits generated by protecting communities or restoring ecosystems are undesirable, and instead want strong B-2-B demand. Mentoring to make sure our decks properly convey our company’s potential while helping to identify investors that align with our mission is key. 

Cultural barriers may become an issue. Coastal products have been points of contention between stakeholders that have led to lawsuits. These lawsuits often involve hard barriers that prevent the littoral transport of sand. Our products function in a different manner so there may be less risk for this. But any new product might raise an alarm and could be blocked before being deployed. Negative press, even just about legal entanglements, could negatively impact user perceptions and discourage deployments. 

Fortunately, market economics should not present a barrier. Our product would be low-in-cost compared to products such as reef balls, while not requiring heavy machinery to deploy. The fact that a team of volunteers can easily install an acre of high-productivity oyster reef within a week should eventually create strong demand, if they can ever come to market! 

Another positive is that our team has strong technical skills. Our CEO holds six previous patents, and our production team has experience both in custom and mass production. Our overseas part production can come on line within weeks, as would our US assembling facility plans. We would be very happy to share these strengths with our Solve peers. 

Basically, we are enthusiastic about the opportunity to be part of an entrepreneurial community that is focused on solutions that do good. We feel it's past the time to pool our individual strengths and creativity to promote equality and save this planet. 

Thank you for your consideration! 

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Financial (e.g. accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

George Thatos

More About Your Solution

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Biomimicry

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Maldives
  • United States
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models

How many people work on your solution team?

There are currently 3 full time staff at Coastal Technologies Corp., and 5 part time team members.

How long have you been working on your solution?

Our company was founded 2 years ago.

Your Business Model & Funding

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Government (B2G)

Solution Team

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