3D printer creating coral reefs. Source: D-Shape
3D printer creating coral reefs. Source: D-Shape

Enrico Dini, an Italian engineer, hopes to prevent coastal erosion using 3D printed coral reefs.

Dini is using the D-Shape 3D printer, one of the world’s largest 3D printers, to create fabricated reefs made with sand and sludge. The D-Shape 3D printer, created by Dini, is large enough to print houses and features a large aluminum frame. After the reefs are designed using CAM software, the 3D printer deposits sand and seawater layer by layer to create an artificial reef made with these natural materials.

Dini and his team have been getting sand and sludge from the coastal seabed, drying it in the sun, and putting it into the D-Shape using a seawater-based binder. The team then tries to place the 3D printed reefs in the space where they originally had taken the sand from.

According to the International Coral Reef Initiative, coral reefs acts as breakwaters and provide protection for fish and other sea creatures. Coral reefs are described as the rainforests of the ocean, supporting vast amounts of species as well as productivity. Reefs support an estimated twenty-five percent of all marine life. Reefs provide spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding areas for a large variety of organisms, including sponges, cnidarians, worms, crustaceans (including shrimp, spiny lobsters and crabs), mollusks (including cephalopods), echinoderms (including starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers), sea squirts, sea turtles and sea snakes. Protecting coral reefs will help many species survive and thrive.

Pilot programs have been launched in England and certain locations in the Middle East. Scientists state that the focus needs to be on re-growing natural corals, but Dini hopes that his 3D printed coral reef creations can help.