3D printed terracotta tiles to aid revival of marine coral life

Hong Kong-based marine scientists have created 3D printed terracotta tiles they say will act as artificial reefs to help give corals a fighting chance against climate change. With corals rapidly declining all over the world, this is said to be a crucial leap for ocean restoration projects.

An 80% decline of the coral population in Double Island, Sai Kung, Hong Kong over the past decade prompted a team of scientists at Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and its Robotic Fabrication Lab to come up with a solution that will not only help that region but also other coral growth areas.

The result is a mesmerizing, swirl of line and negative space that reads like a burnt orange topographic map, mimicking the natural patterns of coral. The HKU team says it chose terracotta due to it being highly porous with “nice surface micro-texture” for marine organisms to latch on to, and is an eco-friendly alternative to conventional materials such as cement or metal.

The terracotta clay was 3D printed into the reef tile pattern and fired to 1125°C. Each tile is almost two feet in diameter and 128 tiles have been produced so far. Giving the coral lots of ‘nooks and crannies’ to anchor to, the tiles interlock organically, allowing expansion when needed without disturbing existing settings. The tile design can also be adapted for the specific environment and underwater conditions where they are placed.

The reef tiles, seeded with coral fragments, have been placed over an approximate 430-square-foot area across three sites within Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in Hong Kong.

The scientific team will monitor the area for the next two years. 

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