Scientists put 3D-printed tiles on seafloor to help coral reefs thrive

Coral reefs are dying and these underwater ecosystems are homes to tons of species, buffer shorelines by decreasing waves and provide 500 million creatures with livelihoods. 

Climate change is the biggest threat to coral reefs, but scientists and architects have come up with a new way to potentially restore corals in Hong Kong. 

The Robotic Fabrication Lab of the Faculty of Architecture and the Swire Institute of Marine Science has created reef tiles. Corals don’t like sand because it’s too abrasive, so they won’t attach to the seafloor unless there’s a hard bottom. 

“I kept thinking about what if we could just tile the seafloor like you might your kitchen or your bathroom floor? What if we put down a hard bottom and create a habitat where there isn’t one right now,” David Baker, an associate professor at Swire Institute of Marine Science. 

The collaborators 3D-printed 60 centimeter-diameter hexagon reef tiles out of clay and glued them onto the seafloor. 

“In the beginning, we were thinking of doing it in concrete, but concrete can be as, well, detrimental to the environment when you put it into water because of the PH level. And so that’s why we said why not use a more sustainable material which basically clay is just soil in the end,” Christian Lange, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong told the Associated Press.

The clay reef tiles structure is similar to brain corals and can prevent sedimentation accumulation, which poses a serious threat to corals. 

The researchers placed 40 square meters of the tiles on the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park seabed in July. By September, marine biologists found that the corals they attached to the tiles had a 100 percent survival rate. 

While it’s too early for the scientists to draw major conclusions, the reef tiles are believed to be a promising start.

If you enjoyed this story, check out the Seabin Project that aims to eliminate waste from the ocean.

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