Soda Founder Bevan Slattery, Introduces PACER

Serial tech entrepreneur Bevan Slattery has unveiled his latest – and potentially final – venture: a research center dedicated to using artificial intelligence and underwater robots to create 1 million square meters of new reef over the next decade. Slattery, who grew up in Rockhampton, Qld, exploring the Great Barrier Reef in the Keppels island group, believes a start-up mentality is crucial to accelerate the restoration and conservation of marine species and their habitats.

“It’s increasingly evident that the science community alone cannot counter the environmental crisis we face in the Pacific. The corporate sector will have to play a critical role if we are to rapidly deliver meaningful up-scaling of restoration efforts,” Slattery said.

Slattery has committed $2 million in seed funding to establish PACER, the Pacific Centre for Advanced Ecosystem Research, based at James Cook University in Cairns. PACER is seeking an additional $8 million in private contributions from philanthropists and family offices, as well as $8 million in matched funding from state and federal governments, to set up the facility and fund its initial projects.

The primary goal is to develop what Slattery calls a “cookie cutter” approach, allowing conservationists to use underwater drones and robots to build new reefs in areas free from oceanic sediment. “We aim to create new reefs that will connect to existing ones, serving as lifeboats for the continued growth of the ecosystem,” Slattery explained.

On land, PACER’s researchers have developed a “digital twin” – a virtual model of the man-made reefs – to simulate how these new structures and coral will thrive in the wild. The aim is to establish a “highly scalable and repeatable process” that can be adapted to different environments. “There is a way you can design beautiful reefs that are incredibly practical,” Slattery said. “It’s almost no different from building data centers. You figure out what it takes to build a 10 megawatt data hall, and a 100 megawatt data center is just 10 data halls. You take that same cookie cutter and deploy it.

“Once we create that, we’ll be able to share it with people around the world.”

PACER will unite scientists from Biopixel and James Cook University at a new facility on the university’s Cairns campus. Among PACER’s experts is Professor Matt Dunbabin, who developed an underwater drone capable of identifying and poisoning the invasive crown-of-thorns starfish.

“Disruptive start-up thinking and investment, as opposed to the institutionalised mentality that currently dominates too much of the existing effort, is the only way we can drive real change at scale,” Slattery said. “You only have to look at SpaceX versus NASA.” This initiative aligns with the federal government’s development of a national robotics strategy, aimed at fostering a local robotics and automation industry.

While based in Queensland, Slattery expects the first artificial reefs to be trialed by Australia’s Pacific neighbors. “Building relationships with the people in the Pacific region and bringing them on this journey is going to be incredibly important,” he noted. “It’s crucial for Australia and Queensland to invest in solving issues in the Pacific regions, ensuring our engagement goes beyond national security and ports.”

About Biopixel Oceans

Biopixel Oceans Foundation has been conducting outcome driven research into megafauna, fisheries species, and identifying essential habitats for species survival. In its first 7 years it has been contracted by State and Federal Governments to lead research and advise on human shark interaction, published over 60 scientific papers, with our Natural History production arm contributing footage to 30 international documentaries.

JCU Partnership: BOF is partnering with JCU for research, training and education initiatives.  The Pacific Centre for Advanced Ecosystem Research at the Cairns campus will focus on science, engineering and education that will allow greater engagement and training opportunities for Traditional Owners, Tourism Industry and the community from the local area, Queensland and across the Pacific.

Most recently, BOF and JCU has begun working with the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD, New Caledonia Centre) to expand the boundaries of scientific knowledge in the Coral Sea and promote transboundary marine management/conservation.

The PACER facility will provide opportunities to work with groups conducting restoration science to help accelerate the actual roll out stage and at a meaningful scale.