3D Printing Could Help Save the Ocean’s Coral Reefs

September 13, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

coral reef
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Leveraging technology to rejuvenate a fragile underwater ecosystem.

The potential for 3D printing technology to foster the growth of coral reefs will soon be put to the test in the Caribbean waters surrounding the Dutch island of Bonaire.

Bonaire’s coastline is fringed with coral reefs, which, thanks to protection initiatives that have been in place since the 1970s, are considered the healthiest in the Caribbean.

But in general, Caribbean coral cover has declined drastically over the last few decades, due to the combined effects of ocean acidification, rising ocean temperatures, overfishing, and coastal development.

RELATED: Coral Reefs Thrive on Nutritious Fish Urine

Ocean preservationist Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is teaming up with the island’s Harbour Village Beach Club to implant printed pieces of artificial coral off Bonaire’s coast, in the hopes that they will attract free floating baby coral polyps — the organisms that make up coral reefs — along with other aquatic life.

Made of sandstone and limestone, the printed reefs will be designed to mimic natural reefs in shape, texture, color, and chemical composition.

Underwater cameras will monitor the effectiveness of the 3-D printed material in boosting the health and growth of the natural coral reefs.

“3D printed corals can generate real change and establish real growth for reefs…” Cousteau tells the Caribbean Journal. “This technology is less labor-intensive than current coral restoration processes, creating a larger impact in a shorter amount of time.”

As Futurism notes, this is not the first attempt to improve coral reefs through the use of 3D printing technology. In 2012, Australia’s Reef Design Lab introduced printed coral to the Persian Gulf and Monaco, with the aim of providing alternate habitats for marine life that rely on the reefs.

"Coral reefs are an essential part of the underwater web of life," Cousteau comments to The Associated Press. "They are the rainforest if you will of water, of life under water, including about 70 percent of species which live and thrive or depend on coral reefs at some point within the life cycle."

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