How a Hong Kong startup is using 3D printed tiles to help restore coral reefs

A Hong Kong startup is trying to help corals adapt to climate change problems man made – with its innovative use of 3D printing and terracotta.

A portion of Hong Kong’s subtropical waters is home to more species of coral than the Caribbean, but that portion of the South China Sea used to be of even greater natural beauty.

“We believe this area was a coral paradise,” David Baker, a coral ecologist at the University of Hong Kong, told CBS News. “For those who are still with us from the WWII generation, these people tell you that the water was crystal clear, that there was coral everywhere.”

But as Hong Kong industrialized, runoff and pollution entered the waterways.

So Baker co-founded Archireef, an eco-engineering startup to rebuild “paradise lost”.

In a world first, his team has produced 3D-printed artificial terracotta reef tiles. They are non-toxic and biodegradable. The team placed the tiles on the sandy bottom of a sheltered cove and seeded them with live coral, and 95% survived over the past two years.

When asked how he came up with the idea, Baker said, “I thought to myself one night, why not tile the sea floor like we would tile a kitchen or bathroom floor?”

The tiles could have global applications for coral adaptation, with benefits for humankind and ocean life. Reefs protect homes and businesses and break destructive waves from storms. More than 1 billion people depend on coral, which plays an essential role in fisheries, tourism and even medicine.

Scientists predict 70% to 90% of corals around the world will disappear in the next 20 years.

Archiref has now expanded to Abu Dhabi where it has a new industrial 3D printer.

“We have our own eco-engineering facility,” said Vriko Yu, Archireef’s other co-founder.

Yu just moved here from Hong Kong and wants to help the corals move too. The waters of the Persian Gulf can rise to 118 degrees – higher temperatures can be deadly.

“We can support migration to help these corals move to deeper waters,” Yu said.

Reef plates can also help bridge isolated coral communities that are separated due to mass extinctions caused by climate change. How a Hong Kong startup is using 3D printed tiles to help restore coral reefs

Rick Schindler

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