3D Printing Could Save Our Dying Coral Reefs

3D Printing Could Save Our Dying Coral Reefs

The technique offers an affordable, modular and low-carbon structure in which to rebuild marine habitats

Jennifer Passas
  • 15 september 2016

Australian architect James Gardiner is advocating for 3D printing technology to build structures for coral to grow on. The 3D printed structures replaced reefs that are currently decimated by disease, pollution and dredging.

3D-printing-breathes-new-life-into-oceans-artificial-reefs-5 coral reef

Artificial reefs are currently built out of uniform, block constructions of concrete or steel. While these solutions are cheap and easy to make, they don’t look or remotely resemble the real thing. Gardiner has been working with David Lennon of Reef Design Lab to design a new solution with textured surfaces and built-in tunnels, creating shelters for fish and other aquatic wildlife.


The process includes turning computer models into wax molds with the world’s largest 3D printer and then casting them with sand. It is a cheap and low-carbon solution to manufacture custom, modular pieces of reef. The first 3D printed reef was installed in Bahrain in 2012 and eight months later was covered in algae, sponges and fish.

While the 3D printed solution is viable, it is important to note that rebuilding all of the world’s coral reefs by hand is impossible and that climate change is still the biggest threat facing coral reefs around the world.

Reef Design Lab

Featured image: bleached coral via Shutterstock

+3d printing
+Coral Reefs
+James Gardiner
+marine life

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