Aug 21, 2017 | By Benedict

Jessica Gregory, a 23-year-old nature lover from Newport, Wales, is attempting to save coral reefs by 3D printing replicas of coral skeletons. She hopes young corals will be encouraged to to grow around the 3D printed replicas.

Climate change and pollution are taking their toll on the world’s coral reefs, spectacular underwater ecosystems built by corals, which are tiny underwater invertebrates. Once some of the most spectacular sights on Earth, many reefs are now permanently damaged by “coral bleaching,” with the Great Barrier Reef losing around half its entire body to bleaching.

This damage to coral reefs has inspired Welsh nature lover Jessica Gregory to do something helpful. And with a 3D printer to hand, her amazing project could be a key tool in the environmentalists’ battle to save the reefs.

Gregory has been 3D printing coral skeletons which mimic the real thing, in the hope that the 3D printed replica will trick baby corals into growing and reproducing around the structure. Apparently, the tactic actually works.

"Coral is a complex and fragile organism,” Gregory explains. “It is very important to humanity as well as the planet—coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. But due to human factors such as pollution, climate change, and sedimentation, 30 per cent of the existing reefs could vanish in the next 30 years.”

Gregory, who is studying a double masters in global innovation design at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, is working with ocean conservationist Fabien Cousteau on the 3D printing project, which she has dubbed “Coralise.”

"Coralise is a project which aims to irradiate juvenile coral mortality, which stands at 99 per cent,” Gregory says. “There is a huge problem with coral dying.”

The 3D printed coral works by replicating the corallite structures which are created as coral grows its skeleton. These structures then function as protection for juvenile corals in their developmental stages.

And initial tests on Coralise show that the tactic of mimicking corallite structures could pay off.

“I have been told the project could really help,” says Gregory. “I have always been interested in nature and I am also interested in arts—the course allows me to combine the two.”

The 23-year-old, who says her focus “is on designing using nature for nature” and “helping with environmental issues,” plans to continue with the project until its implementation, with the Coralise method soon be used to 3D print forms for a piece of Caribbean reef. This endeavor will be carried out alongside Cousteau and will appear in a documentary.

Although Gregory does not specify how her artificial coral skeletons are 3D printed, she explains that the surface pattern is “based upon the natural skeletal cups coral which protect the polyps.” This patterning is then “replicated aesthetically within the 3D printing of the product.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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