It is not surprising in a world booming with developing technology that the answers to saving declining wildlife, like coral reefs across the globe, could be in the hands of none other than new technology. While there is somehow still debate about the declining state of our planet due to pollution and global warming, it is pretty accepted that coral reefs are in great danger of disappearing, as we know them, within the next generation. It is hard to ignore the massive die-off that we are currently seeing in coral reef systems worldwide. Thanks to Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the infamous Jacques Cousteau, new technology is being implemented to hopefully save coral reefs.

3D printing is not necessarily new technology but the applications Cousteau is suggesting are fairly, novel. It is his hope that technology, more specifically 3D printing, will come to the rescue of coral reefs and help not only rebuild what has already been damaged but also give coral reefs a stronger chance of survival moving forward.

What is 3D printing and how can it be used for reefs?

3D printing is the action or process of making a physical object from a three dimensional digital model. Basically using a computer to synthesize a three dimensional objects. The first application of 3D printing coral reefs occurred in 2012 off the coast of Bahrain where a 3D printed reef was successfully put in place.

Cousteau’s goal is to use this same concept off the coast of the Caribbean this year, which is seeing some of the biggest impacts of changing oceans.  The work’s headquarters will be Harbour Village Beach Club in Bonaire. A spokesperson for the resort, Anna Peterson, expresses the resort’s interest in the project, “This is a proactive initiative by Harbour Village Beach Club and Fabien Cousteau to continue ensuring that Bonaire remains a top diving destination with some of the most pristine reefs on the planet. Other areas of the Caribbean, and the rest of the world, are more stressed and damaged, so the work done in Bonaire can be used to preserve damaged coral reefs in other places.” It is not a surprise that Fabien Cousteau chose such a fantastic dive area as he was named 2016 Diver of the Tear by the Coral Gables, Florida headquartered International Seakeepers Organization. The Harbour Village Beach Club in Bonaire includes a 60-slip marina capable of docking yachts from 35- to over 150-feet, which is important for the project.

Many people would probably ask what makes 3D printing different than other methods of sinking artificial reefs. Since the beginning trials, two factors have really out shown previous methods: texture and color. 3D printing allows scientist to really better mimic actual real live coral, down to every last detail, better than any other method so far.  Cousteau himself has created over 30 different pore textures and coral shapes to imitate the real deal.

The project and the future

In addition to bringing the possibly life changing project to the area, Cousteau has also stated he will build an outpost of his Ocean Learning Center at the Harbour Village Beach club as well. The Ocean Learning Center is a New York based nonprofit organization that focuses on ocean conservation and the education that goes along with it. However, the club itself is already renowned for coral preservation in their own right. This of course is why Cousteau chose the resort for the project. Great Adventures Bonaire is a PADI five-star center that runs coral preservation initiatives right there on site.

“The Ocean Learning Center will be home to a 3D printing machine that will print artificial reefs to sink in the surrounding seas. They’re currently experimenting with the best materials for local reef building and plan to plant new reefs soon,” says Peterson. She adds, “One of the objectives is to educate and engage residents and visitors, giving them a better understanding of our human-ocean connection and a path towards being part of the solution. Guests may attend educational Fabien Cousteau Ocean Symposiums and other conferences the resort hosts and can participate in land-and-water based projects, including beach cleanups, helping the team fragment coral and cleaning the ‘trees’ as part of the coral reef restoration program.”

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