Wiebke Eberhardt
New Business und Marketing Strategist
01.09.2021 | reading time: 4 minutes

CHANGING CULTURES MAGAZINE > MINDSET2030 > arts | business | SCIENCE: Ulrike Pfreundt

arts | business | SCIENCE

5 Questions for Ulrike Pfreundt on a sustainable future to marine scientist and co-founder of rrreefs Ulrike Pfreundt. In this interview, she talks about how the combination of technical development, art and science can counteract coral extinction and what awaits us in 2030.



Ulrike Pfreundt is co-founder of rrreefs, a non-profit organisation that rethinks, rebuilds and re-generates coral reefs with a novel 3D-printed reef system.

With a PhD in molecular genetics and microbial oceanography, Ulrike ensures that the reef system is ecologically intact. With over 9 years of experience in the lab and sea, she has developed and managed scien-tific projects. Her particular strength is combining technological advan-ces and scientific knowledge to develop new ideas.

STURM und DRANG: As a marine biologist, what has surprised you most about your research so far?

Ulrike: That there is still so little interdisciplinary collaboration. If you look at the size and complexity of the problems that need to be solved today, it always surprises me how little truly interdisciplinary design and work is done. This is certainly also due to the fact that we are not necessarily trained in academic education to understand physicists, engineers or artists or to ask them to work together. I have to say that interdisciplinary collaboration in marine biology is much more advanced than in molecular genetics, for example, my former field of research. For our project rrreefs – the reconstruction of entire reef ecosystems - it was clear from the start that this could only be done through the closest cooperation of very different people. We started as a team of two – a marine scientist and a visual artist. Otherwise, we would never have made it this far.


SuD: What influence do coral reefs have on our future?

Ulrike: The continued existence of coral reefs has a very big impact on all of our futures. This may seem unexpected at first, but it becomes very clear when you look at the global context: About a quarter of all known marine species live in coral reefs – the biodiversity is even higher than in tropical rainforests. Young animals in particular find shelter and food in the reefs, but as adults they certainly live in other marine ecosystems. So, from a biological point of view alone, coral reefs are incredibly important for a healthy ocean. If the reefs suffer, the ocean suffers, and with it the natural balances: without healthy oceans there is no healthy planet, because they regulate the climate, produce oxygen and food. Last but not least, healthy seas are also places of inspiration, wellness and culture. They provide very tangible services: They protect the coasts from erosion, and with tourism, fishing and pharmaceuticals, entire economic sectors depend on them.


SuD: How did the idea of 3D printing coral reefs come about? What was your motivation?

Ulrike: I myself experienced how the colourful reefs I used to see turned into brown-grey deserts. When I started to look into the issue scientifically, I quickly realised the extensive impact and urgency of the problem. Reefs suffer for many reasons: Climate change, overfishing, pollution. By 2050, it is predicted, we will lose over 90% of all corals worldwide if we remain inactive. The coral reef lives from and through its complex three-dimensional structure. It is the structure that makes the reef what it is. And this structure is lost when the corals die. The ecological balance is disturbed, and only rarely does such a destroyed reef regenerate itself. This is where we come in. We give the reef its structure back. Then the corals and all the other creatures return by themselves. In this way, the habitat is preserved and the reef can make its contribution to coastal protection.



SuD: Which prediction of the future do you think is wrong?

Ulrike: I don't believe that everything will go down the drain and the whole world will sink into chaos. Sure – many things are going absolutely wrong. We are destroying our planet furiously, the lives of many people are still being trampled on, and the existence of many non-human species even more so. This upsets me regularly and makes me incredibly sad. But I am an optimist at heart, and I see many signs of a turnaround: Awareness is growing! It’s becoming clearer to everyone that humans depend on a healthy planet, healthy oceans and rainforests, and a healthy climate. I think we should be gentle with ourselves from time to time. Today's situation has arisen from our overall social development, and social rethinking simply takes a lot of time. In the past, some of the things that seemed wrong to us make sense to us today and has improved the lives of many people. We didn't know any better. But now we know – and now we are taking action!


SuD: What will be better in 2030 than it is today?

Ulrike: The cities! I have great hope that change will be visible fastest in the cities. Oslo, for example, is already wonderfully quiet today, there are hardly any cars in the city and if there are, most are electric. This offers wonderful opportunities. Ingenuity clusters in cities, people crave more green, more quiet, more neighbourhood feeling. I think by 2030 there will be far fewer cars in city centres, and the space freed up will be greener and filled with all kinds of exciting projects. With rrreefs, we want to be at the point in 2030 where we can rebuild entire barrier reefs, giving tropical island nations back their livelihoods – a healthy, protective reef.


If you would like to support rrreefs, you can find more information here.

Images ©rrreefs


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