Dutch scientists are working with 3D-printed reef structures to restore mussels and oyster reefs in the Wadden Sea. Artificial corals must give a boost to natural reefs to reach maturity.
This initiative is part of the “Build with Vital Towns” project that will start next month and aims to restore mussel and oyster reefs in the Wadden Sea. For this purpose, scientists will 3D-print artificial coral structures from biodegradable materials. Mussels and oysters can naturally settle on these structures, after which the imprinted corals break off on their own.
Vital building materials
Healthy seas depend on vital towns. These are animal species that influence their own environment in such a way as to create ideal living conditions and provide a habitat for many other species. “Bioconstructors are a catalyst for biodiversity,” says Ralf Temenck, a marine ecologist at Utrecht University and one of the researchers on the project.
In the Wadden Sea, reef-forming shellfish, especially mussels and oysters, are important biostructures. Often this species needs a helping hand to successfully establish itself on empty clay ground, because its larvae are prey for crabs or washed up by the waves.
3D-printed temporary artificial reef structures can make the difference between barren sandy pier and coral reefs by providing shelter for mussel larvae and small oysters from predators and waves. In this way, the structures mimic mature coral reefs, which naturally provide protection and thus form the basis for the next generation. Artificial reefs should temporarily take over this role on bare sand.
When mussels and oysters are large enough to form the reef itself, the underlying skeleton completely collapses. In net terms, there isn’t any 3D-printed material left, but natural corals, Temmink says.
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