3D Printing Coral Reefs To Prevent Ecosystem Collapse

Somewhere between 35 000 – 60 000 oceanic species inhabit the sprawling underwater architecture of coral reefs. Unfortunately for aquatic life scientists have predicted that more than 90% of coral will disappear by 2050.

Tiny algae called zooxanthellae live inside of coral polyps and provide them with 80% of their nutrients via photosynthesis. When water is too warm polyps will expel symbiotic algae, turning the  coral completely white and leaving them at risk for mortality.

Since oceanic temperatures are rising rapidly all around the world, coral reef have been hit with a plague of “bleaching” and many of them are passing away – leaving tens of thousands of species homeless.

Aside from those inhabiting the coral reefs their are potentially many more disruptions to subsequent levels of the food chain. In fact the disappearance of coral reefs around the world has contributed to the increasingly alarming levels of mortality amongst aquatic life.

All is not lost however – with the advent of advanced technology many things become possible that were not previously.

For example, Australias Reef Design Labs recently began testing an interesting solution to this unique problem. Designer Alex Goad, using 3 dimensional computer modeling constructed a convincing replica of coral reefs found on the coast of the Maldives where 60% of them are bleached by rising temperatures.

In only 24 hours he was able to 3D print a complex interpenetrating mold cast out of ceramic, which is similar essence to limestone rock. After shipping the molds from Australia to the Maldives 220 of them were packed full of marine concrete, assembled and submerged seven meters deep on the beaches of Summer Island Maldives Resort where they are now a vital part of the surrounding lagoon.

In order to promote new growth fragments of authentic coral reef were transplanted onto the artificial reef.  The hope being that real coral will expand, colonizing these ceramic molds. At the very least – Reef Design Labs have begun testing a solution that could provide a new home for tens of thousands of species living in the shrinking eco-system of coral reefs.

In fact their 3D computer models are open source so that other people can pick up were they left off.





3D Printing Supports Growth of Coral Reef Ecosystem in the Maldives


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