How 3D printing could help save Hong Kong’s coral

(CNN) — With a standing as a concrete jungle, handful of know that Hong Kong is one particular of Asia’s most biodiverse towns and offers more really hard coral species than the Caribbean.

But these corals are beneath danger from air pollution and swift city progress.

ArchiREEF, a spin-out company from Hong Kong College, suggests it has a remedy: 3D-printed terracotta tiles built to enable corals develop and restore ocean everyday living.

Co-established in 2020 by marine biology professor David Baker and PhD pupil Vriko Yu, the enterprise hopes it can help make corals “extra resilient” in opposition to local weather adjust.

Rock bottom

Discovered in heat, shallow drinking water, coral reefs cover much less than 1% of the ocean flooring but host far more than 25% of maritime lifestyle. Corals, invertebrate animals that stay in large underwater colonies that variety reefs, have existed in Hong Kong for hundreds of several years, but air pollution and coral mining have decimated the populace.

Coral reefs are underneath risk from local weather change and pollution. In Hong Kong, technology to regrow coral can enable “reset the clock,” according to startup archiREEF.

Baker and Yu have been trying to restore coral at Hoi Ha Wan Maritime Park given that 2016 in partnership with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Section (AFCD).

Hoi Ha Wan, now a guarded coastal reserve, in the north of Hong Kong, utilized to be the web site of coral mining for design resources. This designed a key barrier to restoration, says Baker as “the hard bottom of the seafloor has been mined absent,” leaving only sand and rubble.

The group wanted to develop a new “bottom” for the corals to improve on. Working with the university’s architecture section, they commenced acquiring an synthetic coral reef working with the university’s 3D printing facility.

This synthetic reef is built from tiles that are roughly two feet extensive, and mimic the all-natural condition of platygyra, recognised as “mind coral.” Its twisting “valleys” draw in marine existence which can nest or conceal from predators, claims Yu.
A cuttlefish living in ArchiREEF's clay reef tile test site in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park, Hong Kong.

A cuttlefish living in ArchiREEF’s clay reef tile exam web page in Hoi Ha Wan Maritime Park, Hong Kong.

Vriko Yu

When placed in the water, the workforce attach newborn corals to the tile with non-poisonous glue. The form of the tile will help the corals improve upwards, attracting marine lifestyle that construct their houses in the reefs.

Extra than 130 of these tiles were put in on the seabed in Hoi Ha Wan Maritime Park in the summer of 2020, and archiREEF was born.

Commercializing restoration

The 3D-printed tiles are just one small element of archiREEF’s small business design. After engaging corporate clientele and governments to sponsor a restoration undertaking, archiREEF will establish a web page for restoration, put in the reef tiles, and go on to control the web site for up to five many years, monitoring the advancement and the biodiversity of the reef.

Regular artificial reefs, this sort of as submerged concrete structures, usually exchange the purpose of the coral as a habitat for marine lifetime, says Yu, whereas archiREEF needs to provide a “foundation” for the coral to expand on. At some point, the coral will be solid enough to assist itself with out the tile — which can then be shattered by divers, or will by natural means erode.

Baker states that archiREEF can support regrow coral in areas where by it has solely disappeared, a circumstance which is starting to be more popular: experts predict that warming ocean temperatures and progressively acidic waters may perhaps damage up to 90% of coral reefs globally in the up coming 20 several years.
A diver positioning a 3D-printed terracotta tile on the sea floor.

A diver positioning a 3D-printed terracotta tile on the sea ground.


An ‘innovative’ technique

Organizations this sort of as Australia-primarily based Reef Style Lab and D-Form have formerly applied 3D printing to develop underwater habitats. But archiREEF’s use of clay, a non-poisonous and organic materials, is “revolutionary,” suggests Pui Yi Apple Chui, a coral restoration researcher at the Chinese College of Hong Kong.
Compared with concrete, clay is a little bit acidic, like coral and has a related chemical make-up to actual reefs. The 3D printing technological innovation also offers limitless customization, which the architects at Hong Kong College say enabled them to create a lot more locations for the corals to expand and fight particular environmental complications with a bespoke style and design.

Nonetheless, Chui also adds that men and women need to be “sensible” about restoration and think about the cost and accessibility of technological innovation. Destinations like Hong Kong also require additional information on the efficacy of conservation attempts before it can be scaled in a meaningful way, she states, adding: “Restoration should really be the past resort we need to protect before we restore.”

Conservation for every person

Rescuing these reefs can assist maintain the planet’s underwater ecosystems, these kinds of as seagrass meadows, which advantage from coral reefs, and are crucial carbon outlets.

There are financial positive aspects to coral reefs, way too. In accordance to a 2021 report from the World wide Fund for Coral Reefs, coral reefs help the lives of close to one billion individuals by coastal industries these kinds of as tourism and business fisheries, as nicely as giving coastal protection from storms.
Fossil evidence points to corals living in Hong Kong for thousands of years.

Fossil evidence details to corals living in Hong Kong for 1000’s of decades.

Phil Thompson

ArchiREEF continue to has a way to go right before scaling up. The team will observe the examination website in Hoi Ha Wan for at the very least another two many years to ensure the corals carry on to thrive and endure pure disasters, this sort of as typhoons. On the other hand, Yu says the effects at the examination web site so significantly are promising: in the initially six months of observations, four situations far more coral has survived on the clay tiles in contrast to common artificial reefs.

A more 10 examination web-sites are by now planned, which the startup will use to refine the 3D-printing procedure and explore alternate components, as producing clay is electrical power intense and produces significant quantities of carbon dioxide.

Even though archiREEF’s concentration is at the moment on govt and huge company clients, it hopes to a person working day interact folks in its projects, far too.

“Restoration is at this time limited to conservation researchers,” Yu says. “But if we’re talking about stakeholders, it truly is most people.”

Ellen C. McGowan

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