3D Printing Under The Sea
Coral reefs are disappearing from the world’s oceans, and this is not a fact to be proud of. At least three quarters of these beautiful and tropical marine habitats are dangerously threatened all over the planet and in just 2016 alone, the Great Barrier Reef lost up to 30% of its coral cover. But could advances in modern technology allow us to simply create more reef? It may sound far-fetched, but scientists are working around the clock on 3D new reed habitats to replace those lost to climate change, overfishing and pollution.
Coral reefs are important ecosystems for people in tropical countries as the sea life which lives on them is a major source of food and income. They also protect shorelines from erosion and storms. However, since the 1980s, many reefs have suffered large-scale coral die-offs as a consequence of high temperatures which is a result of climate change.
When corals die, the hard structure of the reef still remains behind and can be inhabited by new corals, but this is something that can take a very long time, and even longer if the environment has not been effectively managed. So there is actually plenty of existing reef, but what’s left is left without corals.
Corals are a lot like trees, which if you remember, trees are much like the lungs of the earth and play an important role. Corals create most of the complex structure that provides a habitat for a range of sea life creatures. To help protect the reefs, organisations have tried to ban certain activities from areas with devoid corals, but even with these efforts it is hard to recover what has been lost.
To address this, researchers have looked at how to restore degraded reefs, either by planting new corals on the reefs, or rarely, trying to repair and replace the parts of the reef with man-made structures.
3D Printing Relief for the Reef
Recently, one of the largest 3D printed Coral reef was deployed in the Maldives, as a way of creating a new reef habitat for for sea life, using a new technology called MARS (Modular Artificial Reef Structures). MARS consists of lattices that have been 3D printed in a special ceramic type filament and designed to be deployed from small boats and pieced together by helpful divers and workers. The idea is that they can be used for coral farming, where coral is cultivated for commercial purposes in reef restoration, a way to create new reef habitats in areas that have been damaged or devoid of corals.
The benefit of MARS and other similar projects is that they dont require heavy machinery to deploy, such as cranes, so they can be used in even the most remote places at a lower cost than other options. Another advantage is the fact that they actually look like reefs, which is thanks to 3D printings amazing use of 3D Digital files and skilled artists and designers who create them.
MARS may create amazing dive spots for future tourists when natural dive sites have been degraded. They also provide a way for communities to get involved together to help preserve something beautiful for future generations.