Coral reefs only cover about 0.1 percent of the world’s ocean surface and they’re still disappearing at an alarming rate. These “rainforests of the sea” are already sensitive to water temperature, so it’s no surprise that pollution, over fishing, and global warming are dramatically reducing the world’s coral reef population. To help counter this, Reef Arabia introduced nearly 3,000 concrete Reef Balls near Bahrain to create new homes for the ocean life that call these underwater structures home. For their latest project to restore ocean life to its natural order, Reef Arabia sunk its first-ever 3D-printed reef.

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There are advantages to using sandstone. Not only are its properties closer to a natural earth rock than concrete, it also has a neutral pH level, which should make them a more hospitable home for all the small fish, crabs, and shrimp that normally use stony corals for shelter.

Previously the team molded concrete into shape, but the team wants to switch to 3D-printing because it allows them to replicate natural reefs much more quickly. The prototype reef took a week to fabricate. But in the future, the team says their printer that extrudes sandstone layers in five-millimeter layers could print four molds at the same time in just a day. At the same time, 3D printing allows the Reef Arabia team to create random variations in the reef units so that no two are identical.

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via Forbes

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