For a long time artificial reefs have been used to nurture marine life and control erosion, but their components often mean they fail to attract coral.
Now, it is hoped a new type of artificial reef made with a 3D printer using local materials could change all that. They are currently being tested in pilot programmes in the UK, Bahrain and Oman.
Enrico Dini is the brains behind the D-Shape printer used to make them.
“We have seen an artificial reef – an artificial reef in the sense that it’s a shape with particular features, with a particular geometry, very complex, that would be impossible to manufacture without that technology. And those features have been conceived to enhance – ecologically – the fish repopulation,” says Enrico Dini.
Layer by layer, the printer binds sand with seawater and a magnesium-based binder to create the stone-like objects.
“The idea is to mine the seabed and take the binders and the sand exactly from the place where we are going to place our object,” he says.
Artificial reefs are often made of different types of concrete, failing to attract corals which need a specific type of algae to colonise a certain substance.
It remains to be seen whether these reefs, composed of locally sourced sand, will successfully attract coral.
“3D printing is kind of agnostic to complexity. So it’s easy to make complex things and I think for people who want to replicate nature in any way, it’s a huge, huge boon to those folks. It’s a brand new tool that they’ve never had before,” says David Rejeski, Director of the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program.
While the technology is a promising first step in the fight to restore reef habitats, ocean experts say the focus must remain on replenishing natural corals, which some fish species are dependent on for foraging and raising their young.