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Environment

Saving the seas: 3D printed coral reefs

Access to 3D printing technologies has grown exponentially in the last few years and one Australian company is using it to bring life back to coral reefs.

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The 3D printed structure on first installation (left) and the structure now as it begins to support marine life (right)

The damage to sea life caused by humans is well-documented, with devastating news of the destruction of these ecosystems reiterated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In August this year, Reef Design Lab installed the world’s largest printed reef in the Maldives in conjunction with a coral farm to encourage growth of coral life there. The rigid skeleton is 3D printed and cast in ceramic to provide a structure where transplanted corals can grow. After a time, coral can eventually be transplanted back on to natural reefs. The structures are deliberately easy to transport to take away the need and cost for heavy machinery.

Coral reefs have been dying over the last 20 years because of bleaching, whereby they turn pale and can no longer support algae, due to increased ocean temperatures, overfishing and oil spills

Dubbed the MARS project (Modular Artificial Reef Structure), the modules are designed in CAD software first before moulds are 3D printed on a desktop fused filament fabrication system. Designer Alex Goad is also working on 3D printing sea walls that will provide dedicated habitats for marine life. 

Despite coral reefs only occupying less than one percent of the earth’s surface, they support a fourth of all marine species. If the Paris Agreement target is achieved (a 1.5°C rise in global temperature) the report estimates a worldwide loss of 70 to 90 percent of corals. If the rise in temperature reaches 2°C, almost all the world’s coral will die. Coral reefs have been dying over the last 20 years because of bleaching, whereby they turn pale and can no longer support algae, due to increased ocean temperatures, overfishing and oil spills.

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