3D-Printed Coral Reefs: The Key to Solving the Coral Bleaching Crisis?
The future waiting for the world's coral reefs is bleak. Scientists estimated that 90 percent of the entire planet's coral reefs will disappear because of coral bleaching in the next 35 years. The possible solution? 3D-printed coral reefs.
One thing humanity has on its side is technology. With man continuing to push boundaries on scientific knowledge and technology, a few of innovations could help fix -- if not undo -- the negative effects of climate change on the environment. 3D-printing technology has plenty of uses in different industries, and scientists are trying to see if it can help in the desperate plight of the ocean.
According to a report from National Geographic, companies are using 3D-printing technology to produce fake coral reefs that mimic the natural texture and architectural structure of the real thing. Not only are these fake coral reefs expected to be less vulnerable to climate change, they're also more durable and adaptable to the changing chemistry of the waters than the ultra-sensitive natural coral reefs.
Installations of the 3D-printed coral reefs are already being set up in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf and Australia. This might help alleviate the massive coral bleaching in places such as the Great Barrier Reef. Conservationists are hoping it will attract fish and coral polyps, so it can eventually transform into a new coral reef and rehabilitate the now-dying majority.
One of the teams who are involved in this experimental phase is Fabien Cousteau and his researchers at his non-profit Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, according to a report from Popular Mechanics. Cousteau, grandson of famed explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, already spearheaded an installation on the ocean floor off Bonaire in the Caribbean.
"The idea is to give a leg up and give all the advantages to the natural ecosystem," he explained. "Nature is very resilient if you give it a chance."
Everyone is hoping for the best for this nearly last-minute attempt to save the ocean floor. But many are realistic about the limitations of an artificial reef as well.
"A non-living coral reef will decay and erode and become rubble quickly without the stabilizing veneer of living tissue," Ruth Gates, a marine scientist from the University of Hawaii, said in National Geographic. "It is an aggressive environment that reefs grow in. They are as vulnerable to deterioration as living structures and more if the materials are not really, really strong."