from the day he was born, David Lennon, the Director of Sustainable
Oceans International Pty Ltd (SOI), was taught to love the water by
parents who were ‘obsessed’ with sailing and the sea.
“Ever since I can remember, whenever I looked at water or the sea, I wanted to be under it,” Lennon says.
passion for water and the myriad marine life forms that dwell under the
surface have propelled Lennon on an impressive career path and
fascinating life journey. SOI, a boutique consultancy based in Melbourne
with projects being undertaken from the Middle East to Asia and beyond,
is gaining global recognition for its pioneering work advancing
sustainable design below the waterline and for the restoration of marine
habitats around the world.
says Australians are natural world leaders in business and science. “If
you are a successful manager in Australia you will do well overseas.”
constructing reefs in Bahrain to advising coastal resorts on social and
environmental responsibility, SOI is passionate about conserving the
delicate marine ecosystem that is essential for the air we breathe and
food we eat.
“Constructed or artificial reefs are one of the
greatest investments a company or government can make,” Lennon says.
“Unlike investments in roads, buildings, sporting facilities,
playgrounds or parks, these reefs require no ongoing maintenance budget.
Once deployed that is the end of funding they require. They continue to
produce for the local community for hundreds of years with no annual
budget. I don’t know of any other man-made asset that provides a return
The early clues to Lennon’s success are not
difficult to trace. Endless childhood days were spent sailing and
snorkelling in the Saudi Arabian coastal town where his academic parents
worked at the local university. From his mother and father Lennon also
gained a deep respect for animals and the natural environment. Born in
the UK, Lennon lived in Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and the US before moving to
Australia in 1994 and becoming a proud Australian citizen.
to scuba dive at age 16, Lennon spent the next few years volunteering
at the local dive centre, discovering along the way that he loved
teaching people. He says he was “gung-ho” on becoming a commercial diver
and at age 20 successfully completed a six-month advanced program in
the US. Lennon says his commercial diving qualification has been a boost
to his career as a marine scientist. “It taught me how to work hard in
tough conditions and get the job done,” he says.
his parents to continue his education, Lennon completed a Bachelor of
Science in Oceanographic Technology from Florida Institute of Technology
in the US.
“A standout trait of Australians is our ability to get in and get the job done with minimal fuss.”
was while studying the impact of oil production in the Arabian Gulf in
1991 that Lennon first began to build artificial reefs, or constructed
reefs, as they are now widely known. Used for impact mitigation and reef
restoration, constructed reefs maintain biodiversity and encourage
local fish stocks.
“I was working at a large research
institute in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and one of my colleagues, Eric
Charbonnel, was studying fish assemblages around oil rigs, which are
basically artificial reefs,” Lennon says. “He introduced the concept to
me of building a home for fish and I immediately fell in love with the
Permits were not required to construct reefs in Saudi
Arabia at that time, so Lennon and his colleague would borrow a work
truck on the weekend, drive to a local tip and load it up with ‘all
kinds of junk’.
“Scrap pipes, junk, broken toilets, you name
it,” Lennon says. “We’d then drive to the company beach and throw the
stuff in and watch the fish take up residence. It’s like building a
house for a possum or other wild animal. There is something rewarding
about it, I was hooked and that was the start of my love for
constructing homes for fish and other marine critters.”
the way marine life chooses and utilises different structures and
groupings of reef materials, Lennon’s ambitions to enhance biodiversity
in the ocean grew further.
“Eric taught me back then that
building a reef is an art and science and it’s very true,” Lennon says.
“The art aspect of reef building is something that is hard to teach;
it’s just like planting a garden. Anyone can stick some bushes and trees
in the ground but only a few are famous for creating truly amazing and
effective gardens that work well with the local species and climate. No
two architects will come up with the same design for a building, and one
design can be far more effective than the other; it’s the same with us
Lennon’s passion for preserving and repairing the underwater environment had found its vehicle of expression.
are losing huge volumes of reef habitat due to development and even
storm events; global warming is killing reef-building coral at an
alarming rate,” Lennon says. “We are also consuming huge amounts of
seafood and overfishing many natural reefs. Reefs can be constructed to
replace natural reefs that have been lost, to increase fish production,
take fishing pressure or diving pressure off natural reefs, provide
increased diving sites or recreational fishing sites, or to protect
shorelines from eroding or even to create waves for surfing.”
says he takes his cues from nature, harnessing the concept of
biomimicry when building reefs. “I spend a lot of time studying the
local reefs to gain insights as to how they function and what aspects of
them are favoured by different organisms,” he says.
SOI deployed Bahrain’s first constructed reef, an intricate structure
totalling 274 reef units ranging in height from 0.4 metres to 3 metres.
It was the first reef in what will be a ten-reef, two-year project.
is the first Gulf country to initiate a serious attempt to replace
essential reef habitat that has been lost due to dredging and
reclamation,” Lennon says. “The Gulf countries are facing a serious
problem due to the amount of essential fish habitat they have reclaimed
The Bahrain project is being run by Reef
Arabia, SOI’s project partner, a company they helped establish to
manufacture constructed reef units for the Arabian Gulf. The project is
also the first to use custom reef units designed by Lennon that
incorporate iconic Arabian architecture.
creativity propel the work forward. SOI recently filed a patent for a
new manufacturing technology that will allow the reef architects to use a
computer to generate complex reef units. “We had enough funds in 2011
to make eight prototypes in Europe and will ship them to Australia or
the Middle East to test this year,” Lennon says. “This is very exciting
and could revolutionise reef design. We are also researching how new
technology can help us monitor the effectiveness of constructed reefs
and health of reefs.”
Dr Peter Longdill, an environmental
project manager for international consultancy COWI, works on coastal and
marine projects in Qatar. Recently he engaged SOI to conduct a detailed
study of corals which were to be potentially impacted by port
development in Qatar.
“SOI provided a field survey of the
coral area and also a detailed plan together with specifications of how
to successfully relocate those corals and their associated habitat,” Dr
Dr Longdill, who describes Lennon as
“motivated, passionate and reliable”, says SOI has achieved its
remarkable success by identifying a niche where they have strong
technical capabilities supported by a passionate desire to preserve
marine habitats. “By aligning these passions and skills and successfully
marketing these to clients in need of these solutions, SOI has managed
to achieve a high level of success.”
Lennon says in many ways
Australians are natural world leaders in business and science. “In
Australia we have huge production costs, small population, high taxes
and high transport costs, so to be successful and profitable in
Australia is a major success,” he says. “If you are a successful manager
in Australia you will do well overseas.”
In 1993, when Lennon
decided to pursue postgraduate study in order to take his career to the
next level, he chose Griffith University in Brisbane for his Master of
Science in Environmental Management.
Today he says Australian
team members are an asset. “A standout trait of Australians, if I may
say so, I have found is our ability to get in and get the job done with
minimal fuss,” he says. “Working in the Middle East requires a flexible
nature and an ability to be constantly adapting to change because
projects never go to plan. We adapt well.”
Whether by way of
the traits of his adopted homeland, or some unique drive within, Lennon
has found a purpose and cause that he can truly contribute to. He says
he sat down three years ago and wrote a list of things that made him
happy, in order to identify the moments in work and life that gave him
the greatest satisfaction.
“It came down to simply ‘turning
negatives into positives’,” he says. “I realised that no matter what
career I was doing, I was always happiest when I had the chance to
improve something, whether it be a process or product or service.
Combine that with my natural love for the sea and I’m not holding back
on focusing on the mitigation and restoration of marine habitats that I
love so much. My greatest challenge is to get the rest of the world (or
at least a tiny part of it) to give it a go.”