Editorial Feature

3D Printed Great Barrier Reef to Help the Environment

Natural coral reefs are complex ecosystems primarily observed in tropical waters. These structures, made up of calcium carbonate, occupy less than 0.1% of the ocean’s surface, but provide shelter to about 25% of the world’s marine species.

Increasing ocean acidification, demand on global fish stocks and change in climate conditions are creating a strong impact on marine life and reef systems across the world. The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is an excellent example of this. It was estimated that this coral reef system had lost almost 50% of its coral over the years. In addition, according to the reports of the World Resources Institute, coral cover in Bahrain is close to disappearing.

As reefs serve as sanctuary to a vast amount of marine species, there is an increasing need to preserve these unique ecosystems. Therefore, with an aim to restore damaged and lost reefs in the world’s oceans, researchers have come up with a better option - a 3D printed barrier reef.

3D Printed Coral Reefs

Sustainable Oceans International, an Australian organization, in partnership with Reef Arabia, a Bahrain-based company that manufactures artificial reefs has developed a method for 3D printing of coral reef structures that are similar to natural reefs.

This Australian-Bahraini team is the first in the world to use an advanced construction sized 3D printer to produce coral reefs. This novel patent pending technology is a major step forward in restoring vastly diminished coral reefs.

Sourced from: Think Stock

Artificial reefs made of concrete have been used long before 3D printing. However, the complexity and diversity of natural reefs could not be replicated using traditional concrete molding systems. Weighing 500 kg and standing 1 m tall, 3D printed reefs are made up of more versatile sandstone materials that exactly imitate the textural complexity of natural reefs.

So far, the team has developed four prototype units, two of which have been sold to Reef Arabia for a special reef restoration project in Bahrain.

Significance of 3D Printed Coral Reefs

3D printed reef structures are primarily produced to be used in areas that have suffered enormous coral reef death thereby providing dwellings for a wide range of marine species, from algae to different types of fishes.

Sourced from: Think Stock

These structures can be installed in coastal regions to protect these areas from trawling, a fishing method that involves dragging a large net and damaging the ocean floor. They serve another important function by creating barriers between the land and ocean. The structure is also transparent to alterations of specific features to suit target marine species.

Unlike conventional artificial reefs, 3D printed reefs have a large number of crevices formed by the knobby lumps to protect different kinds of marine animals.


Continuous efforts have been made over the past few years to minimize the effects of coral reef deaths. Existing artificial reefs lack the intricacies of natural reefs that attract marine species. However, 3D printed reefs are more like natural reefs, and each structure is unique. Researchers are very optimistic about implementing 3D printing technology more effectively in the future to overcome the problem of coral death.


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