3D Printing Helping Vulnerable Coast Lines
3D Printed Reefs as a Solution
Coral reefs are more than just a pretty tourist attraction. Primarily located in tropical waters, corals are complex ecosystems that are homes to millions of aquatic animals and plants. Reefs can be best thought of in terms of cities; each one is densely populated with thousands of different species. They provide homes, food sources and shelter. Consider this statistic: they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, but support 25% of all marine life.
These reefs also benefit those living outside the ecosystem. The reefs protect coastlines against large waves and potential erosion. When storms strike, the damage is reduced by their presence. They also serve as tourist attractions for the countries they surround. Since they attract several species of fish, the reefs provide a thriving fishing industry for local fishermen, and provide residents with another source of food. The coral itself has several medicinal properties, such as treatments for several cancers, cardio vasuclar diseases and ulcers.
Coral themselves are living things; they start as larvae that attach themselves to bits of rock off the coast of tropical countries. They grow relatively slowly; an average rate between 0.3 cm and 2 cm per year. Over time they form one of three recognized structures: barrier reefs, fringing reefs and atolls. Some of the more famous reef structures, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the atolls of South East Asia, are estimated to have taken thousands of years to form.
However, around the world, coral reefs are in danger. These thriving natural structures are very delicate; natural events such as hurricanes, tropical storms and high waves cause damage. Also, with the increase of human activity, this damage has been multiplied. A study published in 2004 shows that 20% of coral reefs have been destroyed; 24% are under imminent threat of collapse and 26% face long term danger.
Over the past several years, there are been efforts made to mitigate the effects of reef deaths. Across the world, there have been concrete reefs constructed to replace those lost. However, while the concrete reefs looked convincing enough, they lacked the intricacies of natural reefs that appeal to marine animals. Researchers soon looked for other options.
In 2010, Austrailian architect James Gardiner developed a conceptual reef project using 3D Printed reefs. He partnered with Sustainable Oceans International director David Lennon to manufacture these reefs, using a 3D Printer the size of a small house. To date, they have made four 3D Printed reefs. These reefs are 1 meter high and about 500kg and are made from a patented sandstone material. These 3D Printed reefs look more natural and are able to be infinitely customized to attract specific types of marine life. Two have been deployed off the coast of Bahrain, while the remaining two are to be used in Austrailia.
You can follow Sustainable Oceans International and their progress with 3D Printed Reefs here.
Happy and Responsible Printing!