Nov 6, 2017 | By Julia

Innovators on the island of Monaco are forging previously unseen territory in the fight to save the world’s coral reefs. As an important source of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems, coral reefs sustain 25% of the world’s marine life. Yet as climate change continues to drive a deadly underwater heatwave, these brilliant calcium carbonate structures are perishing rapidly, along with the countless species they sustain. Since the 1980s, approximately half of the Earth’s coral reefs have died, with that number steadily on the rise. Two years ago, scientists observed the third-ever global bleaching of coral reefs, in what has been called the largest coral destruction in history.

But there may be a glimmer of hope: back in 2015, scientists at Monaco’s marine-protected Larvatto Bay unveiled six new 3D printed coral reefs in an effort to restore the area’s biodiversity. The massive reef structures, which measure 1.2 x 2 metres each, weigh a hefty 2,500 kilograms, and required 13+ hours of 3D printing time, were manufactured by Dutch maritime company Boskalis and supported by Monaco’s Prince Albert II Foundation. Constructed from Dolomite sand and volcanic ash, the 3D printed reefs, it was announced, would eventually be placed on the ocean floor, enabling scientists to study how these artificial reefs develop ecologically compared with natural reefs.

Now, that initiative has finally been realized: last week, the Monaco government announced the official installation of the Boskalis reefs in Monaco’s marine-protected Larvotto Bay. Transported via the port of Fontvieille, divers from the Monaco Association for the Protection of Nature began the underwater installation mid-day, using balloons to buoy the units in their steel transport cage. Once the structures were towed by boat to their final locations, divers deflated the balloons, lowering the units gently down to the seabed. After being safely placed on the ocean floor, the protective transport cages were removed, signalling the beginning of an extensive monitoring period.

According to Boskalis Environmental Engineer Astrid Kramer, the 3D printed reef project is the first of its kind in the world. “We are really creating new horizons here. It is fantastic to work with such a multidisciplinary team with people from so many different disciplines, from industrial designers to local specialists,” she said. “The world around us is changing and I think this symbolizes how a modern project should be... it won’t be just the reefs that gain from this valuable knowledge, it can be applied to other fields as well. This initiative combines both environmental benefits and those of the business.”

one of the 3D printed coral reef units

Of course, unchartered territory can still be a gamble. Because the work of 3D printing coral reefs is so new, scientists are still determining exactly what the effects will be. What will attract corals, how sustainable the structures will actually be, and whether they can survive tough marine conditions remains to be seen.

“A non-living coral reef will decay and erode and become rubble quickly without the stabilizing veneer of living tissue,” explained Ruth Gates, a marine scientist at the University of Hawaii who specializes in coral resiliency to climate change. “It is an aggressive environment that reefs grow in. They are as vulnerable to deterioration as living structures and more if the materials are not really, really strong.” Still, Gates noted, the Monaco project is a significant step forward, “in terms of putting something back that is really reflective of what was there originally.”

coral polyps losing their pigmentation due to warm water

As for success rates, only time will tell. An extensive monitoring period will take place for at least the next two years by means of habitat surveys, Kramer noted. Furthermore, “Boskalis intends to share this data with the scientific community, so we can increase our knowledge in this pioneering area."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


MarcC wrote at 11/6/2017 5:26:45 PM:

The continent of Europe is an island? Who proof reads this?

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive