Hong Kong’s fragile coral reefs boosted by 3D printing

A marine scientist diver from the College of Hong Kong swims above a cuttlefish defending her eggs inside a synthetic 3D-printed clay seabed

In jade waters off Hong Kong’s jap shoreline, scientists are thrilled to identify a cuttlefish defending her eggs inside a synthetic, 3D-printed clay seabed serving to to revive town’s fragile coral reefs.


On postcards and within the common creativeness Hong Kong is a byword for city density, a thicket of towering skyscrapers crammed alongside the harbour or clinging to the vertiginous hillsides above.

But it’s circled by a stunning array of nature and the small variety of coral reefs are among the metropolis’s best-kept secrets and techniques.

Round 84 species of coral are present in Hong Kong’s waters, scientists say, extra numerous than these discovered within the Caribbean Sea.

Most may be discovered on distant inlets, removed from the sediment-filled Pearl River Delta and its busy transport channels.

However like all reefs in a quickly warming world, they’re beneath huge stress.

Which is the place Vriko Yu and her crew of fellow marine scientists are available.

They’ve begun utilizing 3D printed tiles that work as a synthetic mattress for corals to latch onto and thrive, with promising outcomes.

“The primary time we put down the tiles, there have been a number of fish round,” she instructed AFP on a current inspection by College of Hong Kong (HKU) researchers.

Now the artificially produced reef laid down final summer time is teeming with wildlife, together with the cuttlefish, one thing Yu described as “very, very thrilling”.

A diver looks at samples stored in a cool box
A diver seems to be at samples saved in a cool field

Terracotta warriors

Hong Kong’s authorities commissioned analysis into native coral ecosystems after the reefs at Hoi Ha Wan marine park had been struck by bleaching and mass die-offs.

Corals are colonies of billions of residing polyp invertebrates and are vastly delicate to temperature adjustments.

After they get too sizzling, they lose their vibrant color and die.

Repopulating a lifeless or broken reef requires appropriate floor for the remaining coral larvae to latch onto and construct a brand new house—and the printed tiles have to this point confirmed reliable.

“3D printing permits us to customize a tile or an answer for any kind of setting and I feel that is the actual potential that the know-how brings,” David Baker, an affiliate professor at HKU’s Faculty of Organic Sciences who led growth of the know-how, instructed AFP.

Tiles carrying 400 coral fragments have been laid on a 40 square-metre (430 square-foot) part of sea flooring within the marine park.

Scientists say around 84 species of coral are found in Hong Kong's waters
Scientists say round 84 species of coral are present in Hong Kong’s waters

“The corals now on the tiles positively survive higher than the normal means of transplantation,” mentioned Yu, placing the success charge at round 90 p.c.

Some initiatives world wide have intentionally sunk ships or concrete onto the ocean flooring to encourage coral development. And whereas these strategies have had some success, they will change the chemistry of the water.

The tiles used within the Hong Kong venture are made with terracotta, minimising the environmental affect.

“Clay is mainly soil, so soil you could find in all places on earth,” mentioned Christian Lange, an affiliate professor from HKU’s Division of Structure.

It leaves water chemistry unchanged, Lange added, and if a tile fails to spawn a brand new colony it’ll merely erode with out leaving a hint.

Harder colonies

Marine biologists pay shut consideration to profitable reef repopulation programmes as a result of corals are prone to disappearing.

Marine scientist Vriko Yu from the University of Hong Kong
Marine scientist Vriko Yu from the College of Hong Kong

Rising sea temperatures have decimated reefs world wide, particularly these in hotter tropical waters.

Australia’s Nice Barrier Reef—the world’s largest coral system—is now so badly broken that it’s listed by the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “essential”, the worst class.

Corals that exist in subtropical waters are of explicit curiosity to scientists as a result of they kind usually hardier colonies which are higher in a position to face up to a larger vary of temperatures.

A current Royal Society paper discovered some proof that some subtropical corals had been thriving in hotter oceans, in contrast with their tropical cousins.

“The Nice Barrier Reef… has many corals residing offshore in clear tropical waters, they don’t seem to be used to alter,” defined Baker.

“So simply having a little bit further heat goes to push them over the sting quicker than we predict our native corals would succumb to bleaching.”

Baker mentioned the tiles aren’t a panacea for the mass bleachings.

Tiles carrying 400 coral fragments have been laid on a 40 square-metre (430 square-foot) section of sea floor
Tiles carrying 400 coral fragments have been laid on a 40 square-metre (430 square-foot) part of sea flooring

However he hopes the venture can determine species with the genetic resilience to endure future environmental stress and purchase time for corals “to adapt and emigrate into extra appropriate areas”.

“We would truly be creating a brand new potential house for corals as they attempt to escape local weather change from equatorial areas,” he mentioned.


Novel 3-D printed ‘reef tiles’ to repopulate coral communities


© 2021 AFP

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Hong Kong’s fragile coral reefs boosted by 3D printing (2021, March 19)
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