Scientists from the University of Hong Kong are utilizing 3D printed artificial reefs to mimic brain corals and help regenerate the coral reef population in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park.

Colpophyllia natans (Boulder Brain Coral) entire colony
(Photo : Nhobgood Nick Hobgood / Wikimedia commons)

Coral Reefs Under Threat

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem. It directly and globally supports over 500 million people especially those that live in poverty.

Coral reefs take care of 25% of marine life by providing shelter and food for organisms. 

Unfortunately, coral reefs are also the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Coral bleaching due to the increase of global temperature and greenhouse emissions have devastated coral reefs around the globe.

UNESCO says that coral reefs in 29 reef-containing World Heritage sites would cease to exists as early as the end of the century. 75& of the Earth's coral reefs are threatened by climate change, human activity, and habitat loss.

Check out: Coral Reef Restoration Needs Researchers Help

Threats to Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park

In 2018, a typhoon swept across the San Kung peninsula ultimately destroying 80% of Hoi Ha Wan's corals. Winds that reportedly reached 155mph wrecked havoc on the flourishing marine ecosystem. Experts believe that if left unchecked it would take several generations to recover.

Together with bioerosion threats the survivability of the Marine Park is in dire need of help. The park accounts for roughly 75% of reef-building corals in all of Hong Kong.

3D Printed Terracotta Tiles will Help Regenerate Coral Reefs

Researchers from Hong Kong University, together with marine scientists from the Swire Institute of Marine Science, have constructed the first-ever terracotta tiles that will hopefully aid conservation efforts.

Coral fragments have a tough time attaching to the seafloor because of movement and abrasive grains can damage coral tissue. That's why researchers sought out the help of 3D printing technology to aid coral reforestation.

In an article by Earth Org, these clay hexagonal tiles have mimicked the natural shape of brain coral since 2016. These tiles limit negative impacts on oceanic biodiversity while promoting natural coral growth patterns. 

Vriko Yu, a student involved in the restoration project says in an interview with the Hong Kong Free Press that the tiles act as a substrate that facilitates coral restoration while conserving local biodiversity.

The team used an eco-friendly clay-based material that when fired in a kiln at 1125 degrees Celsuis hardens into terracotta.  Unlike metal or concrete alternatives, terracotta naturally evolves over time, hence in a few decades only new corals will remain in the park.

This year the tiles were laid in three heavily threatened sites covering 40 metres square according to an article by Euro News.

Experts and environmentalists are hopeful that the newly developed 3D printed terracotta tiles will help regenerate the coral reefs in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park.

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