Coral reefs are under attack by the unstable climate and pollution that has filtered into the oceans. Bleaching of reefs is not uncommon due to high ocean surface temperatures, acidification, UV radiation, excess nutrient runoff, and invasive species introduction. More coral reef disease is being introduced to the marine environment and acting as a blight across reefs all around the world. Even the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is showing signs of severe bleaching due to the factors already listed. Environmentalists are scratching their heads as to what can solve this problem. The solution could come from an artificial means.
Humans have deployed molds of concrete into the ocean to serve as a framework for life that is naturally found in organic reefs. This is an attempt at providing an “artificial anchor” to re-establish reef colonies. The main problem with this is that species that live on and in the coral need nooks and natural formations to establish themselves and live inside the structure. This problem is quickly being solved by new 3D printers that are being used to replicate intricate surface areas of coral.
The 3D printers use powdered sandstone sediment, to layer in thin slices, in the form of coral. This offers more unique and naturalistic tendencies of coral that organism’s living on an organic reef are use to. “Reef balls” are 1 meter high, 1,100 pound sculpted pieces of sandstone. These balls, made by Sustainable Oceans International and Reef Arabia, are the first designs to replicate natural coral that suits the indigenous marine wildlife found in the aquatic area (specifically the Arabian Gulf). The difference in the previous molding method and the current printing process is the ability to tailor artificial reef structures to the specific marine wildlife that inhibits the area.
The 3D printers’ attention to detail offers the most authentic home that marine organisms can feel comfortable living in and use to establish themselves in the marine community. Most importantly, these artificial structures are almost exact replicas of older reefs structurally. They are made from heavy sandstone so that disease, blight, UV radiation, and heavy waves cant degrade their foundations.
Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of fish in the ocean. They provide us with 375 billion dollars in jobs, food, and tourism each year. In accordance to Clive Wilkinson of the World Wild Life Fund more than 20% of reefs are destroyed with little chance of rehabilitation. The 3D printing age could be an enormous asset in rehabilitating our “underwater rainforests”. Scientists and printer companies alike will observe the success of the artificial reefs in the coming years. Hopefully, the 3D printer’s success will not only revive coral reefs but revive people’s faith in environmental recovery.