BVI Fixing Reefs With 3-D Printing.

Photo: BVI information services. Plastic blocks help to fill in holes in reefs.
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The Government of the Virgin Islands has joined forces with the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) and Rethink Rebuild Regenerating “rrreefs” to revive coastal reefs in the Virgin Islands.

Rrrefs is an award-winning group based in Zurich, Switzerland, with a mission to revive 1% of coastal coral reefs by 2033.

The organisation has combined scientific design and engineering with cutting-edge 3D printing technology to develop underwater modular clay reef systems that create complex habitats.  These systems are said to be conducive to coral recruitment and habitat for various fish species, crustaceans, mollusks and other macrofauna.

Marine Biologist and Environmental Officer at the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change Ms. Argel Horton who interacted with the 3D printed reef structure said the innovative way of capturing and growing corals through 3D printing is hopeful.

Mr. Horton said, “Once it start thriving, it can be replicated and integrated into our existing reef system so the Territory’s coastal defense can protect us from intense hurricanes, storms, and flooding in our critical low lining communities. We would be the second in the Caribbean to test this system, and I’m eager to see how well it will work within our region.”

The Territory’s first 3D printed reef measures 20 cubic metres and was produced as 254 individual bricks in Switzerland and shipped to the Virgin Islands late last year. The Lego-type structure was assembled on-site at Cistern Rock off Cooper Island, a popular snorkeling and dive site near ARK’s existing coral nursery.

The reef was made possible by one of Switzerland’s leading boarding schools, Institute Le Rosey. The school’s head, Christophe Gudin said, “I have discovered the BVIs as a kid and come back regularly with groups of students to learn diving and marine biology.”

Mr. Gudin added, “The changes I have witnessed over the past 20 years underwater and the importance for the next generation of leaders to grasp this fundamental issue has matched remarkably well with this project. I look forward to coming yearly helping to research the evolution of the reef with students.”

Over the next two years, the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) will monitor how the structure enhances marine biodiversity by recruiting coral, fish, and other marine life.

Managing Director for ARK Dr. Shannon Gore said that coral reefs worldwide continue to be impacted by climate change, coral diseases, and various human activities. Restoration he stated is therefore becoming an important solution.

“The design of these 3D printed bricks can be seamlessly integrated within deteriorating reefs to rebuild areas that are no longer able to protect shorelines from erosion”, Dr. Gore explained.

Over the past three weeks, Co-Founder Marie Griesmar, and designer and field operator, Mauro Bischoff of Rrreefs, along with Dr. Gore led the installation of the 3D printed reef with support from several local companies and organisations.

Ms. Griesmar said “We look forward to seeing how this reef evolves over the coming years and how we can implement more of these types of reefs in the BVI”.

Rrreefs has established similar pilot projects in other parts of the world, such as San Andrés Island, Colombia in 2021.  On that project, the first coral recruits were observed only eight months after installation and abundance and biodiversity are now equal to that of natural reefs.  The Swiss team is heading to the Philippines to install a  3D-printed reef measuring 100 cubic metres and to Ecuador later this year.

The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change is committed to conserving the environment of the Virgin Islands while ensuring that decision-making is based on the best information available to preserve and develop the natural resources of the Territory and that the necessary legislation is put in place to support it.

Source: BVI press release.


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