Second Place - Middle School

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 13: Climate Action

  • Goal 14: Life Below Water

2020 Youth Design Challenge

This design concept was developed by participants in the Institute’s Youth Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

School: Wheatland Center School
Location: Burlington, WI
Coach: Kandi Horton
Team members: Gavin Heriford, Jaini Beck, Mason Biehn, Ronan Bacle, Safyire Guthrie

Video Pitch

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Innovation Details

The Reef Guard is a concept for protecting coral reefs from UV radiation and rising ocean temperatures that cause coral bleaching. This team created a floating underwater shade structure inspired by giant lily pads and the UV-reflecting properties of Orb Weaver spiders’ webs. The team was commended by the judges for their strong engineering design process and testing and refinement of key components of the design.


What is the problem addressed for this Challenge and how is it related to climate change?

The problem addressed is the warming of the oceans which is affecting the coral reefs and causing reefs to die due to global warming caused by greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. Reefs are a big part of ocean life. 25% of marine life lives in the coral reefs, yet reefs only make up 1% of the ocean! Rising temperatures of the oceans are causing the algae to shed from the coral, leaving the coral exposed to direct radiation from the sun. This is bleaching of the coral is destroying habitats for many marine animals.


What does this design solution do? How does it solve and improve a problem?

This solution attempts a way to lower the temperatures around the reefs, but still allow enough sunlight through for natural to occur in the algae. The Reef Guard design will reflect much of the sun’s harmful radiation away from the coral reef and shade the reef area, much like leaves on a tree provide cool shade on hot days. This keeps the water temperature under the Reef Guard cooler and helps keep the algae in place reducing the bleaching effect on the coral and allowing the symbiotic relationship between algae and coral to thrive.


How was this solution inspired by nature? What organisms inspired it?

The solution was inspired by the Orb Weaver, a spider that can spin UV reflective webs. Integrating this reflective property to reflect UV radiation away from the reef will keep the area under the Reef Guard cooler and protected. Sun’s rays are white light and that algae grows best with blue light as it penetrates the water at greater depths, so the Reef Guard mostly translucent blue so more blue light can filter through to the coral/algae below. Also, leaves on trees inspired the design to provide cooling shade during the day.