The Maldives are world famous for colorful and diverse coral reefs. Surrounded by the clear waters of the Indian Ocean, the country’s more than 1000 islands contain nearly 3% of the world’s coral reefs. These reefs are dramatically vulnerable to global warming.
Starting in 2014, the Maldives have been struck by repeated and severe coral bleaching events that have now affected between 60% and 90% of its coral reef ecosystem. (photo – ESSE Natura)
Severe Coral Bleaching
Research conducted by the Maldives Marine Research Center led Dr Amer Abdulla to say “Our survey was undertaken at the height of the 2016 event and preliminary findings of the extent of the bleaching are alarming, with initial coral mortality already observed….We are expecting this mortality to increase if bleached corals are unable to recover.”
The unusually high ocean temperatures stress the coral causing it to expel algae that lives in its tissues and symbiotically feeds the coral. The result is the coral turning white or fluorescent, losing its brown algae color.
Typically bleaching lasts a few months and then the reefs might recover their algae. However if sea temperatures remain high, the algae may not recover, and the coral will die along with the many other species that make the coral reef home.
The bleaching event that occurred in 2014 was felt on reefs around the world. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost nearly a fifth of its coral in 2014 and more has died since, victim to repeated high temperatures.
In the Maldives so much of the country’s employment and income is based on tourism and tourists come to see the coral reefs. Consequently there are a number of initiatives to protect, make more resilient, or restore the nation’s coral reefs.
World’s Largest 3-D Printed Coral Reef
Now a breakthrough initiative is unfolding in the Maldives. The creation of the world’s largest 3-D printed coral reef is happening. Its installation is on the ocean bed off Summer Island Maldives. <<Click to Tweet>>
Reef Design Lab based in Melbourne, Australia has designed, printed, and assembled hundreds of cast ceramic and concrete modules on the ocean floor. This structure has much of the character of a natural coral reef, combining texture and open spaces and passageways for fish.
Beneath seven meters of water, the artificial reef is located near the resort’s existing coral nursery. This easily facilitates the transplanting of live corals directly onto the new artificial reef.
“3-D printing technology helps us to develop more innovative ways of protecting coral reefs…the technology allows us to mimic the complexity of natural reef structures, so we can design artificial reefs that closely resemble those found in nature,” explained designer Alex Gold of Reef Design Lab.
The expectation is that the transplanted native corals will begin to cover the artificial 3-D printed coral reef in a year or so. This will give it a much more natural appearance.
Around the world, groups have been exploring the potential for 3-D printed coral reefs to help preserve the world’s rapidly dying coral systems. For more examples, see our article, Saving Coral Reefs; With Innovation. We applaud this latest advancement and hope for its success.
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