Coral reefs are disappearing at a rapid rate around the world as pollution, overfishing, coastal development, and global warming are all playing a significant part in this alarmingly fast decline.
In the Persian Gulf, coastal and off shore developments have left the coral reef ecosystems severely damaged in the waters off of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. Researchers at the World Resources Institute estimate that reef coverage in Bahrain has decreased from at least 50% in the 1980s to essentially zero percent today.
In order to combat this decline in coral reef coverage, the people from Reef Arabia have been designing and manufacturing artificial reefs (they prefer to call them ‘constructed reefs’) with the goal of regenerating precious ocean habitat and protecting fish populations.
The Reef Arabia team is made up of reef experts from Bahrain and members of the Australia based Sustainable Oceans International (SOI). The group has submerged over 3,000 concrete reef balls and other custom made structures using concrete molds.
Reefs constructed using concrete withhold some limitations. In order to combat these issues Reef Arabia, collaborated with SOI, 3D program specialist James Gardiner, and rapid manufacturing experts DShape, in order to establish a new 3D printed reef unit made of non-toxic patented sandstone material. Two of these 3D printed reefs were sunk off the coast of Bahrain last fall.
David Lennon, Reef Arabia team member and director at SOI states that sandstone “is closer to natural earth rock and has a neutral pH surface which makes it more attractive for coral larvae looking for a home,” Using sandstone instead of concrete with also cut back on the carbon footprint left behind by these developers.
The biggest advantages gained from 3D printing these structures is the speed and control gained when using 3D printing technology. Small variations are easily made, which helps build diversity into the reefs and replication is far faster than with concrete molds. The team can now generate a 3D image file of a natural reef and then print it as well. The prototype reefs took about a week to design and only a day to print and the reefs can be printed four at a time.