Creating a living coral ‘ark’ against climate change

Trish Sunga Trish Sunga Australasia Press Office,Sydney
29 October 2020

The release of images and information today about the world’s first coral biobank – a ‘living coral ark’ – show Arup’s significant sustainability and engineering contributions to the unique conservation facility.

Helping to secure the future and biodiversity of coral species under severe threat from climate change has been a passion project for Arup specialists in Australia and overseas, with the team working gratis.

The dedicated research and education centre will be in Port Douglas in North Queensland, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Designed by Australian architects Contreras Earl Architecture with Arup and Werner Sobek for the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, its primary goal is to keep alive and nurture more than 800 species of hard corals.

Illustration coral research and education centre Illustration coral research and education centre
The Living Coral Biobank Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration The building’s sculptural form is inspired by the distinctive protective radial fins of the mushroom coral.

This project epitomises ‘total architecture’. We have brought our technical and local knowledge and offered our time to this collaboration to make sure every aspect safeguards the coral. ”

Richard Vincent Richard Vincent Associate Principal

Through its innovative design and engineering, the facility will be a world leader in next-generation sustainable design, creating optimal conditions for coral storage while minimising energy consumption. One of the strategies to reduce energy use has been to divide the centre into six climatic zones over four levels.

The 6,830sq m building is also focused on achieving a zero-carbon footprint and has been designed to reflect the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (which underpin all Arup’s work). 

As well as sustainability expertise, the multi-disciplinary Arup team contributed deep experience in seed banks, galleries and museums, and visitor experience.

Arup’s team in Cairns, some 55km away, played a particularly important role. “Having designed and delivered a number of key public buildings in the region, our knowledge of the site and the climatic conditions – the tropical heat, cyclones and storm surges – have helped influence the resilience features of the facility,” said Robert Donnan, Associate Principal.

The interior design integrates specialist laboratories with public spaces and viewing/ education areas, while protecting against contamination and achieving our sustainability vision. ”

Robert Donnan Robert Donnan Associate Principal

Dr Dean Miller is the Living Coral Biobank Project Director and Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy.

“To ensure this priceless living collection is held in perpetuity for generations to come, we need the world’s most advanced facility that also promises to use only renewable energy sources and function with optimum efficiency, while also creating an unforgettable visitor experience - and that’s exactly what this design delivers!” Dr Miller said.