3 Initiatives That Are Saving the Coral Reefs Through Technology

This is a month to celebrate the advances in ecology and conservation while acknowledging the long path ahead.

The Woman Post | Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

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With the theme of World Environment Day, 5th of June being "Ecosystem Restoration" this year, and the oceans day also being celebrated on the 8th of June, The Woman Post shares three initiatives that are helping save our coral reefs. Over half a billion people depend on coral reefs for food, income, and protection from erosion and storms. Also, one million aquatic species live in healthy coral reefs.

1. Artificial Algae

Artificial “substrates” are being used for the first time to mimic the properties of natural algae. They make the corals’ foundation stronger by growing over and between gaps in gluing sections of coral together. This elongates the surface for baby corals to settle, and feed marine life. Chiara Lombardi, a scientist with the Italian National Agency for New Technologies said “they promote biodiversity and coastal protection.”

“The majority of the studies simulating reefs are mainly focused on corals,” said. It is essential to preserving algae as it provides services that benefit human lives. Lombardi added “They are a resource, not only for marine life. We tend to consider the protection of nature very far from human beings — but we are all connected, and it is important to understand this connection. Protecting the natural ecosystem will benefit the lives of all future generations.” Furthermore, the material’s properties are similar to algae and don't damage the marine environment.

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2. Coral Nursery

In 2018 researchers from the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Florida set up coral nurseries. To restore damaged reefs they first grow corals in artificial ocean-based nurseries. Composed of tree-like structures made from fishing lines and plastic branches, the structures hang from a buoy where corals are planted.

When the corals are basketball-sized, they are harvested from the nursery and planted on the seafloor. Within a year, the newly planted corals will fuse with the larger corals and the reef begins to recover. “It’s a way to jump-start the reef,” says Dr. Emily Hall, an ecologist at Mote Marine Laboratory. Thousands of these coral flowers are planted yearly and they have a more than 80% survival rate. Almost 70 000 pieces of coral have been planted in the Caribbean Sea. The plan is that the coral population will recover to a point where they can reproduce on their own."

3. 3D-Printed Corals

Researchers from the University of Delaware showed that 3D printed coral models can provide structural support to restore damaged bleached reef systems. Thus, they concluded artificial corals can be implanted onto real coral reefs to help them recover.

They act as a foundation for coral larvae to settle and grow and shelter fish and invertebrates, key for the development of a healthy ecosystem.

Professor Danielle Dixson, a researcher at the University of Delaware said offering 3D-printed habitats is a way to provide reef organisms a structural ‘starter kit’ that can become part of the landscape as fish and coral build their homes around the artificial coral. She added, “since the materials we selected are biodegradable, the artificial coral naturally degrades over time as the live coral overgrows it.”

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