Coral’s Call for Help Sings to Lucas

Dec 8, 2022

by FSC Staff

Justin Lucas has felt the ocean’s call ever since he was a young child.

Living less than 150 miles away from the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, Lucas’ family was no stranger to traveling as he grew up in Ellicott City, Md.

By the time Lucas was 10 he had taken his first scuba dive, and at 13 he earned his certification. Now, the 21-year-old Florida Southern senior is a certified dive master with more than 100 trips below the ocean’s surface under his belt.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with the ocean,” said Lucas, who is majoring in Marine Biology and is scheduled to graduate in the Spring of 2023. “I’ve never been a kid that could sit at a desk and do a job like that. I wanted something more creative.”

The close proximity to the ocean helped Lucas hone in on Florida Southern as well.

The school’s outreach program did its job in getting Lucas to campus, and Lucas did what he had to do in terms of earning scholarship money. It all was a natural fit.

“I was always looking at Florida as I was interested in marine biology,” Lucas said. “It was a no-brainer after my tours and everything.”

An Ocean of Opportunity

As Lucas’ familiarity and knowledge of the ocean grew, he realized that conservation of coral reefs is the area where he needed to focus.

Lucas said that he has always had an eye toward coral conservation, but it was when he was in Bonaire, part of the ABC Islands, completing his dive master training last year that a business model started to take shape.

It was not just enough to be a marine biologist. Lucas also wanted to make the world a better place by making sure one of its most vulnerable commodities can flourish.

He thinks he has found a way to do that.

“I started to write down some thoughts that I had when I was in Bonaire,” he said. “I was talking to a marine biologist about coral conservation. They have a device that grows coral at an accelerated rate. It’s a technique for growing coral through small currents of electricity that are connected to a rebar structure within saltwater. It produces calcium carbonate bubbles. Coral has a backbone that is calcium carbonate based, similar to an exoskeleton, and by having those bubbles produced it gives coral a surplus to thrive in its environment.”

What Lucas would do is make it easier for places that are looking to rehabilitate coral reefs by introducing a modular electric coral growing kit.

The electricity produces a current that runs through the rebar and produces a chemical reaction within the saltwater which then produces a calcium carbonate aggregate around the rebar. The aggregate produces calcium carbonate bubbles which the coral use to grow their calcium carbonate exoskeleton, giving the coral an abundance of calcium carbonate in the environment.

“I used the Bonaire device as a template,” Lucas said. “The science is out there, but there’s no device or kit out there. Say you’re an island nation and your coral reefs are going down. You need someone to come in, you have to get a grant, bring in a marine biologist, then they go to Home Depot and get PVC pipe to create coral trees. You have to build it yourself basically. I’m going to create a device that can come in a kit. I’d put them in place, do service on them, put them in the water, attach fragments and you can grow coral.”

The Business of Ideas

With an idea in tow, Lucas did not really know how to proceed.

That is when he heard about Justin Heacock and the Florida Southern College Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship.

Lucas’ girlfriend told him about the center and how Heacock could help. Heacock and Lucas exchanged emails and Lucas quickly found a place for his coral idea to grow.

“It’s amazing,” Lucas said. “I’m so happy I’ve been able to talk to him about this, and take his class. I thought I had an idea, but I didn’t know what I could do with it. In talking with him he gave me a template to start plugging everything in. It’s been wonderful working with him. He’s helped tons of students develop multi-million dollar business plans. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing. He has such a new and different way of teaching. It’s not just the standard lecture course. He’s throwing us right into the business world where we’re developing a company right now. It’s refreshing as someone, who for the past three years, it’s been science lecture courses. This was my first time in the business building in three years here and it was a very neat intro to the business program.”

For Heacock it is all about helping any student that has a business idea.

Heacock has met with faculty across the campus to identify specific courses that he can steer these budding business moguls to help them understand and develop their products.

For example, that might mean someone who is a business major taking a course in music or communications, something that will help them and their idea flourish.

“We’re trying not to have projects fall through,” Heacock said. “We’re trying to fill the void so students can continue projects they’re interested in. We’re trying to identify all innovation outputs or inputs. It’s about how we identify and support them to continue the experiential education experience.”

Lucas is still in the initial startup phase for his coral project, but the help he has received from Heacock thus far has been immeasurable.

Heacock has Lucas working with Catapult to develop his idea. Catapult is a local business in Lakeland that, much like Heacock’s Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship, helps local inventors find a space to develop and test their products.

“I think I would have every single student take one of his classes,” Lucas said of Heacock. “He’s so willing to work with you no matter what schedule you have.”