Coral Reefs are Disappearing; Let’s 3D Print More

3D printing has the potential to do some truly great things. Of course, additive manufacturing promises unprecedented speed, efficiency, and customization, but 3D printing can do much more than that. The technology is at the point where we can print practically anything. We’re 3D printing buildings, robots, food, tattoos, and body parts. We’re also looking at 3D printing to save coral reefs.

What’s happening to coral reefs?

Coral reefs are diverse ecosystems, brimming with life, and bursting with color. At least, that’s what coral reefs have been in the past. Coral mining, pollution, overfishing, and increasing ocean temperatures are damaging and destroying once vibrant coral reefs.

Coral bleaching is happening to reefs across globe, leaving skeletal clusters of bone-white coral littering the ocean floor. While it’s upsetting to lose such beauty in the oceans, it’s detrimental to the ocean to lose these ecosystems. Coral reefs are home to nearly 25% of all marine species despite making up less than 0.1% of the entire ocean’s surface. They play an important role in the ocean’s well being.

With ocean temperatures rising, and substantial amounts of coral reef dying off, there’s been an increased sense of urgency among numerous different groups to come up with a plan to help save coral reefs. It’s estimated that as much as 75% of the world’s reef will be damaged or destroyed in the next 15 years.

How will 3D printing save coral reefs?

One idea involves replanting coral reef. Scientists have been planting reef using natural and synthetic materials to try and rejuvenate coral reefs. Fabien Cousteau – famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau’s grandson – is working on a method of coral restoration using 3D printing. Researchers will print artificial reefs and sink them in the Caribbean in hopes to bring new live to the reefs.

It’s easier and more affordable to mimic textures of natural coral reef using 3D printing than using other methods. Cousteau is hoping that these artificial reefs will either enhance or encourage regrowth of existing coral reefs.

Will it work?

It would certainly be amazing if we could 3D print coral reefs, and revive these ocean ecosystems. That would be quite an accomplishment. However, there’s still the issue of pollution, rising water temperatures, harvesting, and overfishing to contend with. If we’re able to make the ocean well again, we have to make it a priority to keep the ocean healthy.