master’s student Jaime Ascencio
(Photo: Heather Montague)

Watching the decline of marine ecosystems inspired master’s student Jaime Ascencio to create a way to build artificial reefs from sand or mud to protect coastlines.

“Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I’ve always been passionate about marine life. During my lifetime, I have noticed that the ecosystems I used to see when I was a kid are decreasing quite quickly. So I really want to do something to change that. Before coming here, I worked for two years in Mexico and I saw what coastal engineers were doing and I knew I wanted to be one of those guys.

Now I’m studying hydraulic engineering with the specialisation of coastal engineering. In addition to the master’s courses I also wanted to improve my knowledge of entrepreneurship and innovation. So I followed the track in entrepreneurship where you take some courses in things like business, finance and market research. During those courses, there was a pitch competition that I entered with another teammate. We ended up getting a money award to apply for a patent for our technology. Right now, the idea is patent pending. Since then, we have been pitching our idea at other contests and we’ve been getting a lot of attention, so it’s going really well.

We started a company called Reefy, and basically we are using something like Lego blocks that can be assembled underwater to create a new reef that also protects the beach. With this concept, we want to change the environmental impact that marine construction has from negative to positive.

‘It’s a risky decision doing something like this’

In Mexico I was working in a similar market and I saw that the clients were asking for something that was more ecological that could also protect the beach from erosion and flooding. That’s why I wanted to learn more about this topic here. There are lots of options on the market, but I concluded that they are not yet solving the urgent need to bring back reef ecosystems and protect our coasts at the same time. I think that at this tipping point where we are now with nature, we need change. So I decided that trying to create something on our own might be faster.

I’m doing this with a partner who finished his studies last October and he’s now working full time on this project to try and upscale it as soon as possible. It’s a risky decision doing something like this because you’re always uncertain about what will happen, but this is my passion.

I plan to finish my master’s this summer. Deciding what to do after that is difficult, but I think staying in the Netherlands is the right thing for me. If I want to make a bigger impact in the world of water, I think the Netherlands is the best place.”

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