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How to save our seas with 3D printing!


Why should we care about coral reefs?

The United Nations` Global Goals urge countries to safeguard marine life. Especially coral reefs, which nurture pulsating ecosystems, allow trade and shelter shorelines from wearing away, from storms and contamination.  

So how does this 3D printed structure function?

These 3D arrangements will offer a landing ground for the baby coral to attach to and grow. Eventually, the biodegradable 3D structures will liquefy, leaving behind only coral, setting the ideal ambience for a full-scale reef to mature. This will help other species that live on coral reefs, which is simply marvellous.

A lead scientist Danielle Dixson said that these 3D printed habitats are like a starter kit providing structure to organisms until they grow enough to support themselves. Also, certain types of fish build their homes around these corals and in such reefs, so 3D printed forms are facilitating the entire coral reef landscape. 

She explained that researchers decided to do something about the increasingly terrible state of coral around the globe, due primarily to climate alteration which is warming the ocean faster than the land environments causing marine heat waves. Coral is extremely sensitive to surrounding temperatures fluxes, and big portions of the reefs are dying through “coral bleaching”. The Great Barrier Reef for example has lost large portions of coral due to bleaching.

Another cause is ocean acidification, when the water becomes too acidic in response to absorbed carbon dioxide. 

Other threats coral face are: 
  • industrial pollution
  • overfishing
  • extractive industries
  • plastic pollution 

So the 3D printed structures don`t pollute?

Scientists considered plastic pollution when they opted for 3D printed structures, as the last thing they wanted was to further contribute to said pollution by immersing and attaching these objects under the sea. So, they looked for resources which can endure the ocean`s environments, and would also biodegrade over time. These were namely corn starch, and corn starch mixed with steel powder. 

Next, they 3D printed a coral skeleton by browsing images of reefs from 50 different angles, and started mounting in waters around Fiji, where corals have been very much impacted by bleaching events. 

The end result was robust, innocuous to marine species, and adept of supporting the biological evolution of a reef. Moreover, the various species of fish want just protection, so they don`t care if the territory was synthetic or not.

The way forward with 3D printing as a solution

Other comparable efforts have been tried globally to naturalise reefs:
  • oil rigs have been transformed into blooming oceanic ecosystems
  • old subway cars have been immersed into the ocean to foster marine species
  • and groups of environmentalists have manually embedded grids of coral in regions affected by climate change
However, these 3D structures can eventually be utilised in several marine locations, acting as a vital steadying strength for reefs approaching ruin.

The 3D printed model could become the preferred option for coastal countries that depend on reefs for food, tourism, protection and more.