Artificial Reefs Being Created from 3D Printing

3d printed coral reef

The great coral reefs around the world provide a habitat for thousands of different aquatic species, but due to things like global warming and the pollution of the ocean, their numbers – and their heath – are dwindling. Recently, an ocean conservationist by the name of Fabien Cousteau partnered up with representatives of the Caribbean island of Bonaire to replace dwindling coral populations with 3D printing.

It’s Already Happening

Surprisingly enough, Bonaire won’t be the first global location to experiment with 3D printing for the replacement of coral reefs. Other locations around the world, including Monaco and other Persian Gulf locales, have been utilizing this technology for quite some time. Although early results are promising, log-term results have yet to be seen. However, Cousteau (who happens to be the grandson of famed Jacques Cousteau) says that it’s these preliminary results that have him so excited for the future.

The Importance of the Reefs

Coral reefs cover only about 1% of the surface of the Earth, but Cousteau estimates that nearly 70% of all the living things in the ocean depend upon them for survival. They provide a habitat for thousands of species, which are important parts of the food chain for many different reasons. Without them, most sea life would eventually starve and die out, which would in turn have a tremendous impact on the human population.

Better than Previous Restoration Efforts

Cousteau also mentioned that restoration efforts have been ongoing for many years, though these efforts rely on materials like plastics and chemicals, which often create pollution in the oceans. What’s more, many of the coral restoration efforts come from molds, and these do not provide the same realism as a 3D printed reef. In fact, according to Cousteau, 3D printing allows for the creation of shapes that blend into the ocean environment and are aesthetically pleasing to sea life. These reefs mimic coral and improve the populations of polyps and other organisms that often call the reefs home.

Creation of Artificial Reefs and Extensive Testing

A marine biologist by the name Kristin Marharver, PhD, said in a 2015 TED talk that she had been involved with other researchers in a project to determine the sizes, colors, and textures that best attracted the coral polyps floating in the ocean. They found that corals liked pink and white, which are the colors of a healthy, living reef, and they prefer reefs with more crevices and holes for keeping them safe. According to Cousteau and other researchers, 3D printing allows for the careful recreation of these findings, which means they’ll be far more efficient at maintaining wildlife than previous measures.

Coral reefs may go unnoticed by most the world’s population, but for 70% of all the living creatures in the sea, they’re a vital part of their existence. Thanks to researchers like Kristin Marharver and Fabien Cousteau, along with advances in 3D printing technology, coral reefs around the world are starting to make a comeback, and the life in the ocean is quite thankful.