Jul 9, 2016 | By Tess

For those who still doubt the effects of global warming and climate change, a quick look at the state of the world’s coral reefs should convince them. The diverse underwater ecosystems, which are without a doubt some of the most beautiful natural environments on earth, have been under threat for years and have been rapidly disappearing before our very eyes. In an effort to help sustain the coral reefs and their delicate ecosystems, which comprise of a number of fish and underwater species, scientists from around the world have tried a variety of innovative methods, some more successful than others.

Most recently, a team of aquatic researchers have introduced 3D printed coral structures in an effort to help save coral reefs. The project, a joint effort between Australian organization Reef Design Lab (RDL) and Sydney, Australia based architect James Gardiner, has already shown signs of success in Bahrain and Monaco, where it has been implemented.

The 3D printed coral reefs are designed specifically for the purpose of dealing with coral bleaching, a process in which coral polyps reject the algae that keeps them healthy (and colorful) when water temperatures increase. The result of the lost algae is drained white coral, which does not fulfill the sheltering and nutrient environment that coral reef species rely on. The hope with the 3D printed coral structures is that they could provide an alternative environment to protect coral reef marine life, and keep the other species alive despite the coral itself dying.

The Reef Design Lab is confident that the 3D printed coral structures will provide a suitable alternative to real coral primarily because young polyps and other marine species indigenous to coral reefs are attracted to the vibrant colors of healthy coral, which the 3D printed structures can mimic. Additionally, with the freedom of 3D design and printing technologies, the architects and researchers have been able to create incredibly life-like artificial coral structures, with intricate and complex caves and tunnels, which according to RDL could “translate to greater biodiversity and biomass.”

The 3D printed coral reefs have been printed out of a unique sandstone material that has a low carbon footprint, especially in comparison to such materials as concrete. The ecological material and the material efficiency of 3D printing technology has allowed the RDL to remain within its eco-friendly ethos in its effort to save coral reefs. As the organization states on their website, “We believe this technology can play an important role in climate change adaption of low lying islands by cost effectively rebuilding their barrier reefs and thus reducing coastal erosion.”

The project’s ultimate goal is to extend their 3D printed coral structures as far as possible by collaborating with local companies and organizations to make 3D printed reef units using local sand.

The Reef Design Lab is a Melbourne, Australia based non-profit design studio dedicated to developing innovative and ecological products and processes for marine environments. The RDL works with a number of architects, engineers, and developers to help make underwater properties, such as rock walls, jetties, and marinas more ecologically sound and valuable. In addition to the 3D printed coral structures, the RDL recently drew attention for its innovative Nautilus project, which launched in 2015 and consisted of a League of Legends inspired statue, specially designed for underwater environments.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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