Researchers are using 3D printing technology to help rebuild coral reefs – Israel News

Israeli researchers are using 3D printing technology to help rebuild coral reefs

A man snorkels in an area called the ‘Coral Gardens’ near Lady Elliot Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Researchers at Technion University, University of Ben Gurion of the Negev and Bar Ilan University have been collaborating on a project to help rebuild coral reef systems across the world, using a 3D printing model to create the artificial coral structures, according to research published by the universities.

Due to the continuous degradation of coral reef systems around the world – the technology, now being applied of the coast off Eilat, will help to rebuild the diversity of the underwater ecosystem by introducing these manufactured structures into systems that are likely unable to regenerate themselves.

The coral reefs around the world are disappearing for many reasons, due to causes both natural and man-made, mainly from overheating waters affected by climate change, dynamite fishing, chemicals in sunscreen, as well as invasive fish, such as the lion-fish, a specie of fish that hunts the inhabiters of coral reefs.

Over thirty-percent of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system located in the Coral sea off the coast of Australia, was knocked out by heatwaves occurring in 2016 and 2017, raising water temperatures to unihabitable levels for these natural systems – scientists have indicated that if Earth’s average temperature rises another four-degrees Fahrenheit almost the entirety of the coral reef systems around the world will be lost, which are used as essential nurseries for many specie of fish, used to feed over a billion people a year.

The 3D printed reefs can imitate natural shapes that attract different species of fish, to use these artificial structures as their nurseries, in an attempt to bring back the lively population of fish that once inhabited the coral reefs of Eilat.

“Many factors are known to affect the possible recruitment of reef organisms and especially fish. One important factor is the structural complexity of a coral colony, which in turn provides shelter to residing fish. It has been shown that a coral structural complexity correlates with the reef biodiversity,” the researchers said.

The 3D printer uses polyactic acid, a biodegradable and bio-active bio-plastic made from corn, cassava or sugarcane, to design these column-like structures to then install into the water. From there, the columns are then planted individually with farmed coral to mimic the complexities of coral reef ecosystems.

These efforts will in theory recruit important species of fish back to these areas in an attempt to completely reconstruct the barren reefs along the coast of Eilat.

The scientists have played around with many different shapes, colors and materials to come up with the final design product being implemented off the coast of Israel – early indicators suggest that preferences of many of these species differ through contrasting combinations of material and color, while they rejected other combinations.

“As a research group that is composed of marine biologists and designers, we seek to find the next practices and tools to explore ecological functionality of coral morphology,” said the researchers. “We believe that coral reef rehabilitation and management as well as artificial reef construction require better understanding of how the single coral colony morphology interacts with its inhabitants.”

In this specific study the scientists are using 3D manipulation and printing to further understand if man-made structures can foster a natural ecosystem, the species of fish that are essential to recruit for these ecosystems to flourish as well as the advantages of using advanced design tools such as 3D scanning and manipulation to create artificial corals.

“A successful implementation of this study may enhance our understanding of coral interactions with their surrounding environment, provide design tools for public displays such as large-scale aquariums and hence reduce their dependence on live corals, and provide a valuable design guidelines and tools when approaching the matter of active coral reef restoration,” the researchers explained.

“The biological results of the research need to be processed and analyzed further before they can be published. Yet,the design part of the process terminated when the second phase in which 20 objects were installed in the Red Sea for observation. Initial results show that fish and invertebrates are using the 3D printed corals and finding them a good ‘home’ that they trust laying their eggs [in],” they concluded.

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