Israeli scientists 3D print coral to regenerate reefs

Israel is using its prowess in 3D printing to tackle a new problem – making artificial coral to rebuild diversity where reefs are dying.

The team at Ben-Gurion University’s BGU Marine Lab have collaborated on the project with the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Bar-Ilan University.

The scientists performed 3D scans of real coral heads, then 3D-printed replicas out of a bioplastic, which will eventually biodegrade in the ocean.

“As a diver, I was seeing the early signs of this five years ago,” Ezri Tarazi, an industrial design professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology told Fast Company. “I was thinking, how can we take a reef that’s totally collapsing—which means there are no branches of corals anymore because they collapse, and fish cannot hide—and how can we reignite life in it? Because I’m an industrial designer, the idea to print corals was the first thing coming to mind.”

Israel is the birthplace of innovation in 3D printing and digital printing, leading new developments in sectors from construction to health, and food production. In May, Tel Aviv hosted the New Tech 3D Printing Conference, focussing on the importance of 3D printers and their impact on the worlds of industry, medicine, science, technology, aerospace, security and more.

In this experiment, bioplastic coral replicas in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors were placed on a reef along the northeastern coast of the Red Sea. Ben-Gurion marine biologists monitoring the reef over several months noted that not only did the fish accept the artificial corals, but some species even appeared to prefer them to nearby living corals – with fish showing a clear preference for coloured corals over dull ones.

Using a 3D printer to replace part of a damaged reef can’t tackle the underlying problems facing reefs – dynamite fishing, toxic chemicals in sunscreen; invasive fish; and crucially, climate change. If the average global temperature rises 2 degrees Celsius, 99% of coral reefs will be lost. That will decimate part of the food system, since reefs are crucial nurseries for fish that feed more than a billion people around the world.

However, the new development could potentially help support fragile ecosystems in areas where reefs have been so damaged that they aren’t likely to regenerate on their own.  

The research team hopes to eventually build a large 3D-printed garden in the area as a test for reconstructing a completely dead reef.


(via American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Fast Company)