September 21, 2021

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

How 3D printing could help save Hong Kong's coral
(CNN) — With a status as a concrete jungle, handful of know that Hong Kong is just one of Asia’s most biodiverse towns and boasts additional hard coral species than the Caribbean.

But these corals are below risk from air pollution and quick urban advancement.

ArchiREEF, a spin-out corporation from Hong Kong University, suggests it has a answer: 3D-printed terracotta tiles intended to assistance corals grow and restore ocean daily life.

Co-founded in 2020 by maritime biology professor David Baker and PhD college student Vriko Yu, the corporation hopes it can help make corals “more resilient” against local weather change.

Rock bottom

Observed in heat, shallow water, coral reefs address fewer than 1% of the ocean ground but host extra than 25% of marine daily life. Corals, invertebrate animals that dwell in wide underwater colonies that variety reefs, have existed in Hong Kong for countless numbers of decades, but pollution and coral mining have decimated the populace.

Coral reefs are less than threat from local climate improve and air pollution. In Hong Kong, technological innovation to regrow coral can help “reset the clock,” according to startup archiREEF.

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

Hoi Ha Wan, now a shielded coastal reserve, in the north of Hong Kong, utilized to be the web page of coral mining for construction elements. This designed a major barrier to restoration, suggests Baker as “the difficult bottom of the seafloor has been mined absent,” leaving only sand and rubble.

The group desired to create a new “base” for the corals to grow on. Operating with the university’s architecture department, they commenced acquiring an synthetic coral reef utilizing the university’s 3D printing facility.

This artificial reef is built from tiles that are roughly two toes vast, and mimic the pure form of platygyra, known as “mind coral.” Its twisting “valleys” bring in marine lifestyle which can nest or hide from predators, suggests Yu.
A cuttlefish living in ArchiREEF's clay reef tile test site in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park, Hong Kong.

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

Vriko Yu

At the time placed in the water, the crew attach little one corals to the tile with non-toxic glue. The condition of the tile can help the corals increase upwards, attracting marine lifestyle that make their houses in the reefs.

Far more than 130 of these tiles had been installed on the seabed in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in the summer of 2020, and archiREEF was born.

Commercializing restoration

The 3D-printed tiles are just a person little component of archiREEF’s organization design. Soon after partaking company clientele and governments to sponsor a restoration venture, archiREEF will detect a site for restoration, put in the reef tiles, and keep on to handle the web site for up to 5 several years, monitoring the expansion and the biodiversity of the reef.

Common artificial reefs, these types of as submerged concrete structures, often switch the operate of the coral as a habitat for marine lifetime, suggests Yu, whilst archiREEF desires to offer a “basis” for the coral to increase on. At some point, the coral will be potent plenty of to aid itself without the need of the tile — which can then be shattered by divers, or will the natural way erode.

Baker states that archiREEF can help regrow coral in spots in which it has totally disappeared, a situation which is getting to be additional widespread: experts forecast that warming ocean temperatures and ever more acidic waters may demolish up to 90% of coral reefs globally in the upcoming 20 years.
A diver positioning a 3D-printed terracotta tile on the sea floor.

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

CNN

An ‘innovative’ solution

Firms these kinds of as Australia-dependent Reef Design and style Lab and D-Condition have previously employed 3D printing to build underwater habitats. But archiREEF’s use of clay, a non-toxic and normal content, is “progressive,” says Pui Yi Apple Chui, a coral restoration researcher at the Chinese College of Hong Kong.
Not like concrete, clay is a bit acidic, like coral and has a identical chemical makeup to genuine reefs. The 3D printing technological innovation also delivers unlimited customization, which the architects at Hong Kong College say enabled them to build more destinations for the corals to expand and fight certain environmental complications with a bespoke layout.

Even so, Chui also adds that men and women want to be “sensible” about restoration and think about the price tag and accessibility of technology. Locations like Hong Kong also have to have more knowledge on the efficacy of conservation efforts just before it can be scaled in a meaningful way, she claims, incorporating: “Restoration need to be the past resort we should really guard just before we restore.”

Conservation for all people

Rescuing these reefs can support maintain the planet’s underwater ecosystems, this sort of as seagrass meadows, which benefit from coral reefs, and are critical carbon retailers.

There are economic benefits to coral reefs, too. In accordance to a 2021 report from the World wide Fund for Coral Reefs, coral reefs assist the lives of close to just one billion people today by coastal industries these types of as tourism and professional fisheries, as effectively as furnishing coastal protection from storms.
Fossil evidence points to corals living in Hong Kong for thousands of years.

Fossil evidence details to corals residing in Hong Kong for countless numbers of many years.

Phil Thompson

ArchiREEF nonetheless has a way to go ahead of scaling up. The team will observe the examination web site in Hoi Ha Wan for at least yet another two years to make sure the corals continue on to prosper and endure all-natural disasters, these kinds of as typhoons. However, Yu states the final results at the test web site so significantly are promising: in the 1st 6 months of observations, 4 moments far more coral has survived on the clay tiles in comparison to regular artificial reefs.

A further more 10 exam internet sites are currently planned, which the startup will use to refine the 3D-printing process and check out choice supplies, as creating clay is electricity intensive and provides large amounts of carbon dioxide.

When archiREEF’s focus is at this time on federal government and large corporate consumers, it hopes to 1 working day engage persons in its jobs, way too.

“Restoration is currently restricted to conservation scientists,” Yu says. “But if we are speaking about stakeholders, it truly is everyone.”