Researchers from four of Israel’s leading universities have developed a 3D printing method to preserve coral reefs.

Their innovation is based on the natural structure of coral reefs off the southern coastal Israeli city of Eilat, but the scientists say the model can be adapted to help curb reef devastation plaguing coral ecosystems around the world.

In a paper recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the scientists describe how the world’s coral reefs are becoming extinct due to many factors, including global warming and accelerated urbanization in coastal areas.

“The rapid decline of coral reefs has increased the need for exploring interdisciplinary methods for reef restoration,” explained Natalie Levy, a PhD student at Bar-Ilan University.

The workflow for creating 3D-printed reefs. Image courtesy of Natalie Levy and Ofer Berman

The scientists say the process involves scanning underwater photographs of coral reefs and then incorporating environmental genetic information into a 3D technology algorithm. The researchers then 3D-print a new ceramic reef that is naturally porous underwater.

The researchers are currently installing several 3D-printed reefs in the Gulf of Eilat. The artificial reefs are expected to attract corals, fish and invertebrates that support the regrowth of natural coral reefs.

The joint research was led by Prof. Oren Levy and PhD student Natalie Levy of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan; Prof. Ezri Tarazi and PhD student Ofer Berman from the Technion’s Architecture and Town Planning Faculty; Prof. Tali Treibitz and PhD student Matan Yuval from the University of Haifa; and Prof. Yossi Loya of Tel Aviv University.