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3D print an artificial reef

By Shane Graber - Posted Nov 02, 2012 11:00 AM
It was just a matter of time before the technology was applied to building reef structures. Move over Reef Balls!
3D print an artificial reef

A 3D printed reef structure that could help restore reefs around the world.

Reef Balls, for those of you who have not seen them before, are artificial concrete reef structures that are placed on damaged reefs in order to provide new habitat for coral, fish, and other aquatic life. They look artificial for years after but they do serve a purpose. An Australian company, Sustainable Oceans International, however, wants to impove on these structures by 3D printing them with more organic curves and shapes to make them look more realistic.

In a recent blog post, I covered how one could print their own liverock (with the appropriate technology, of course).  In it, I explained how architects Petr Novikov, Inder Shergill and Anna Kulik used Stone Spray technology to design a myriad of different shapes including ones that look very much like liverock. It appears that Sustainable Oceans International wants to do something similar but use it to build actual reef structures.

Sustainable Oceans International actually has its roots in the Reef Ball project so they know quite a bit about reef remediation and restoration. Their Director, David Lennon and Team Leader Coral Reef Restoration, John Walch both utilized and served on the Reef Ball project in years past. David is the sole authorized contractor in Australia for Reef Ball artificial reef modules and John is on the Board of Directors for Reef Ball. A third team member, Mike Naugle, is also a qualified coral handler by the Reef Ball Foundation.

The Australian-Bahraini team working on the new reef restoration project includes Sustainable Oceans International (SOI), a specialist reef design consultancy in Australia, James Gardiner an award winning architect, and Reef Arabia a reef construction company in the Arabian Gulf.

One thing that Sustainable Oceans International does is issue annual Sustainable Ocean Innovation Awards to individuals or companies that are pushing ocean sustainability through innovative techniques and technology. The 2010 winner was James Gardiner for using 3D printing technology to print large, complex, structures that could mimic reef structures.

“When we saw this project we immediately recognised the potential for this technology to move SOI one step closer to achieving our goal of constructing beautiful natural looking reefs” says David Lennon, Director of SOI.

The first structures printed were 1 meter high and weighed up to 500 kg (~1100 lbs) and look much more natural than Reef Balls.

Left: computer rendered 3D file used to create the 3D printed reef unit (right) from a patented sandstone material. Process allows infinite variations of each unit just as nature provides as well as the ability to replicate natural features or manmade objects.
Left: computer rendered 3D file used to create the 3D printed reef unit (right) from a patented sandstone material. Process allows infinite variations of each unit just as nature provides as well as the ability to replicate natural features or manmade objects.

“We currently use one of the most natural looking concrete and mold systems available to build our reefs, but these 3D printed units are amazing in comparison. You can’t tell the difference from real rock and the advantage is that we can engineer them to have very specific features that suit target marine species” says David.

Four prototypes were made (three pictured above) and two of these were purchased by Reef Arabia for a restoration project in Bahrain. Reef Arabia plans to deploy these two structures in and among 270 standard concrete precast reef units (presumably Reef Balls). These new 3D printed structures will be closely monitored and compared to the precast concrete structures to gauge their effectiveness.

"This is very exciting and for us and it’s what I imagine it was like to watch the first plane take off in 1903 - witnessing the birth of a new era. It is a reflection of how advances in manufacturing technology can help us repair human impacts on the environment" said David.

(via Sustainable Oceans International)

Author: Shane Graber
Location: Indiana

Shane has kept saltwater tanks for the last 12 years, is a research scientist, lives in northern Indiana, and is a proud Advanced Aquarist staffer.

Website: http://www.advancedaquarist.com/.

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