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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

3D Corals to Restore Reefs

3D Corals to Restore Reefs

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, September 13, 2016/Categories: wildlife conservation, marine life, sustainability, environment, climate change

                                  Artificial 3D Printed Corals (credit: Caribbean Journal)

3D Printing is a technology limited only by the immagination and creativity of its user. The process takes 2D images and computer-generates successive layers of materials to create a 3D object. It is often referred to as the 3rd Industrial Revolution.

3D Printing typically uses plastic polymers to build objects from toys to machine parts but printers have been modified to use living biological materials. Human stem cells are now being used to build new tissues and organs for surgical transplantation. A potentially exciting application is just being imagined as a way to restore coral reefs damaged or destroyed by coral bleaching. Using 3D printed corals, like something out of a SciFi novel, the approach is being tried on damaged reefs in the Caribbean on the island of Bonaire.

Fabien Cousteau, of the famous marine exploration family, is now working in association with a beach resort to install artifical "corals" on the sea floor. The 3D corals will be made using local sand and seawater from Bonaire to mimic the materials young corals would naturally recognize. The goal of the project is to attract young coral polyps to become attached on the structures, grow, and rebuild living coral reefs.

In commenting on the new ecological restoration project Cousteau said:

“Coral reefs account for 25 percent of all reef life and $6.7 trillion of global economic development. Our initiative with 3-D printing will rapidly assist us in revitalizing more stressed or damaged areas."

The opportunity for using 3D Printing could attract a wide audience to the technology and might 'kickstart' reef restoration efforts more widely. If the Bonaire tests are successful and not cost prohibitive, the "printed" reefs could be deployed to improve marine habitats elsewhere and serve as models of how a new digital technology might help save threatened coral ecosystems anywhere.



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