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Using 3D printers to restore coral


Concrete units can provide a home for fish and coral as a reef develops around it
Concrete units can provide a home for fish and coral as a reef develops around it

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

April 1, 2013 — An Australian-based company is using 3D printers to restore damaged coral reefs.

A rendered computer file (left) is used to create a printed coral reef unit (right). Courtesy: Sustainable Oceans International
A rendered computer file (left) is used to create a printed coral reef unit (right). Courtesy: Sustainable Oceans International

Rising ocean temperatures, disease and a spike in recreational and commercial fishing activities have had a massive impact on the environment.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October 2012, the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral since 1985.

If current trends continue, experts say that number could halve again by 2022.

Now, an Australian-based company is looking to 3D printers to combat this decline.

Sustainable Oceans International (SOI) is developing concrete units that mimic the rocks found in coral reefs. They'll be placed in damaged areas to provide a home for fish and coral and serve as a starting point for a new reef to develop.

In the past, artificial reefs were created by pouring concrete into a mould -- "but this method lacked the complexity of caves, connecting tunnels and the appearance of a natural reef," SOI said in a statement.

"Most pre-cast†artificial reefs look artificial and this is something SOI has been working to change."

The company uses computers to create detailed, 3-dimensional units, which are then printed using a material that closely mimics natural sandstone reefs.

"We currently use one of the most natural looking concrete and mould systems available to build our reefs, but these 3D printed units are amazing in comparison," said David Lennon, Director of SOI, in a statement.

"You canít tell the difference from real rock and the advantage is that we can engineer them to have very specific features that suit target marine species."

The first batch of 3D printed reefs will be placed in the Arabian Gulf, off the north coast of Bahrain.

Experts will be monitoring the 270 units and assessing their effectiveness.

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