Medalla Beer Bottles Turned Into Sand to Rebuild Coral Reefs in Puerto Rico

More than 86,000 bottles were recycled on an island without recycling policies

Last June, Puerto Rico declared an ecological emergency when a combination of factors—think overfishing, scuba diving and public waste, along with stony coral tissue loss disease—destroyed large portions of its majestic undersea reefs.

Medalla Light beer bottles are made from sand and contain some compounds that corals already use to create their skeletons. With "The Great Reef Brewer Project," the beer brand teamed up with marine biologists and DDB Puerto Rico to turn beer bottles—86,000 to date—back into sand/cement mixture that will help repopulate lost reefs.

Muse spoke with Yashira M. Torres Abreu, account director of DDB Latina Puerto Rico to learn how the project came about and how much coral will be replanted.

Muse: How did you come up with this idea and how did you know the sand and glasses have similar compounds?

Yashira M. Torres Abreu: The idea was a shared project between biologists, the brand, and the agency. This theory was based on the fact that if the glass is made with sand and sand is found in corals; we could return it to its raw state and mix it with the unique cement created by the biologists to repurpose it in coral farming. The scientists met with the brand because our bottles are made with the same Caribbean sand found in our corals. Therefore, it was compatible with our coral fauna.

We take a piece of live adult coral and cement it to the bottom where it will start to grow, first moving outwards over the cement and then focusing on growing vertically into the water.

The Great Reef Brewer Case Study | Medalla Light
How much coral do you want to regrow?

Our goal is to initially restore 100,000 square feet of coral colonies around Puerto Rico during the year, which we have almost accomplished, and the long-term goal is to spread our find to other Caribbean islands and keep that rate up for several years to come. For this, we are training citizen volunteers to help us.

Will you continue to rebuild coral reefs even when you have hit your goal?

This is a long-term effort, and Medalla is 100 percent committed to the cause. We are now working with other entities and identifying the relevant technologies and partners that will allow us to scale the effort even further in the years to come.

How long does it take for coral reefs to grow?

The growth rate for a single coral depends on the species, with some corals growing faster than others. For example, the Elkhorn coral (the species we have been planting) grows about 2-3 inches a year. But in the context of the entire coral reef (multiple corals growing together), it can take 10+ years for a large three-dimensional structure to shape what we think of when we imagine a coral reef.

What is the overall goal of the campaign?

The island has no glass recycling programs in place, meaning that used bottles usually end up in dumpsters. Puerto Ricans are very proud of their beaches, and Medalla Light wanted to give something back to the island with this effort. The goal was to educate and create awareness about the importance of marine ecosystems to preserve our beaches. Without corals, there are no beaches as we know them today.

Medalla Light | Why Bottles
What were the biggest challenges of the initiative?

We learned from trial and error that for the compound to work, the temperature of the water was vital. Too warm, and the corals would not grow. So it was essential for us to time these windows of farming for the effort to be effective. 

Can this process be done in other oceans worldwide?

 We believe so, assuming the sand and materials used are compatible with a particular ecosystem meant to be restored. This project was possible in Puerto Rico partly because the glass in our bottles is made from the same Caribbean sand that makes up our corals. Assuming we can recreate similar conditions in other parts of the world, it certainly might be possible to replicate the project elsewhere.

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