Many factors, like global warming and accelerated urbanization in coastal areas, are threatening the world’s coral reefs, putting marine life under tremendous stress.
The rapid decline of coral reefs has increased the need for exploring interdisciplinary methods for reef restoration. Examining how to conserve the biodiversity of coral reefs is a key issue, but there is also an urgent need to invest in technology that can improve the coral ecosystem and our understanding of the reef environment.
Natalie Levy, PhD Student, Bar-Ilan University
Scientists from four of Israel’s leading universities recently developed a 3D printing technique to preserve coral reefs. Their invention is based on the natural structure of coral reefs off the coast of Eilat, Israel, but their model can be applied to other marine environments and could help to prevent reef devastation that is wreaking havoc on coral ecosystems all over the world. The study was published in the Science of the Total Environment.
The joint study was headed by Professor Oren Levy and Ph.D. student Natalie Levy of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, Professor Ezri Tarazi and Ph.D. student Ofer Berman from the Technion’s Architecture and Town Planning Faculty, Professor Tali Treibitz and Ph.D. student Matan Yuval from the University of Haifa, and Professor Yossi Loya of Tel Aviv University.
The first step in the 3D process is scanning underwater images of coral reefs. A three-dimensional model of the reef is built with the greatest accuracy using this visual data. Thousands of images are taken and sent to the lab to determine the reef’s complex shape and how that shape promotes the evolution of reef species diversity.
The scientists then gathered environmental genetic information using a molecular method, which provided precise data on the reef’s organisms. This information is combined with other parameters and fed into a 3D technology algorithm, allowing a parametric interactive model of the reef to be created. The three-dimensional model can be customized to fit the specific reef ecosystem.
The translation and fabrication of a ceramic reef in 3D printing is the final stage. The reefs are made of a special ceramic that is naturally porous underwater and offers the best construction and restoration needs for the area affected, or for the creation of a new reef structure as a foundation for life to continue.
Three-dimensional printing with natural material facilitates the production of highly complex and diverse units that is not possible with the usual means of mold production.
Ezri Tarazi, Professor, Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning Technion, Israel Institute of Technology
The process integrates 3D scanning algorithms with environmental DNA sampling and a 3D printing algorithm to allow for in-depth and accurate analysis of each reef’s data as well as customizing the printed model to a particular reef environment. Furthermore, based on information gathered during the process, data can be re-fed into the algorithm to evaluate the level of efficacy of the design after it has been implemented.
Existing artificial reefs have difficulty replicating the complexity of coral habitats and hosting reef species that mirror natural environments. We introduce a novel customizable 3D interface for producing scalable structures, utilizing real data collected from coral ecosystems.
Natalie Levy, Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, Bar-Ilan University
Ofer Berman remarks, “The use of three-dimensional printing allows extensive freedom of action in reality algorithm-based solutions, and the assimilation of sustainable production for the development of large-scale marine rehabilitation.”
According to the investigators, the current research addresses two vital needs for saving coral reefs. The first is the need for creative solutions that can help with large-scale restoration and can be used to support coral reefs all over the world.
The second is the recreation of the coral reef’s natural complexity, both in terms of size and design, to attract reef species like fish, corals and invertebrates that help to restore natural coral reefs.
Numerous 3D-printed reefs are currently being installed in the Gulf of Eilat by the researchers. They believe that the findings will enable them to apply this technology to other reef ecosystems all around the world.
Levy, N., et al. (2022) Emerging 3D technologies for future reformation of coral reefs: Enhancing biodiversity using biomimetic structures based on designs by nature. Science of The Total Environment. doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154749.