How Brazilians Are Using 3D Printing to Save Their Coral Reefs


A Brazilian biologist by the name of Rudã Fernandes founded Biofabrica de Corais – a conservation and research group. Pictured below on the right next to Fernandes is a fisherman by the name of Luis Carlos Manoel dos Santos a.k.a. Melado.

Rudã Fernandes (left) and Luis Carlos Manoel dos Santos a.k.a. Melado (right), sit on Melado’s boat floor while they attach fragments of coral to 3D Printed plugs and place them onto tables for their coral farm. Image Source: Jill Langlois – Grist

Melado was born and raised in Porto de Galinhas in Brazil. Before joining Rudã’s team, he strictly used his boat for tourism where he would take visitors on trips to the reef. While he still runs his business, Melado’s boat now has an additional purpose during his business’ off hours – carrying scientists and volunteers to help monitor the coral and help restore it.

A bird’s eye view of the Porto de Galinhas Coral Reef
Image Source: Ildo Frazao – iStock / Getty Images

There are a couple of species that the team is focused on: Sea Ginger (Millepora alcicornis) and Cauliflower coral (Mussismilia hartti) to name two. As part of Rudã Fernandes” doctoral dissertation, he created 3D printed coral plugs. Now these are not your run of the mill ceramic plugs that are commonly used for coral fragments in the aquarium hobby.

Common Coral Frag Plug – Image Source: ReefBum

These are specifically designed for each species in order to help promote growth. Studying the restoration of each species takes a lot of time and resources. What Fernandes found was that Sea Ginger prefers a round plug with small peaks so that the coral can latch onto the plug and grow. While the Cauliflower coral prefers a smooth plug so that it can spread out as it grows.

Sea Ginger custom 3D printed coral frag plug

Once the corals are grown out, they can be relocated and glued back onto the coral reef. From here, they can help to restore parts of the reef that have been damaged where their species naturally occurs. By taking the coral fragments that have broken off and fallen onto the ocean floor, these otherwise frags would have died. By monitoring the area, local scientists and volunteers can recover these fragments of coral, nurse them back to health, grow them out and then relocate them.

Coral frag out planting – Image Source: @biofabricadecorais on Instagram

This method has been deployed all around the world and we are seeing really good results! With scientists like Rudã and locals like Melado teaming up with volunteers, the future can be very bright for our coral reefs. Here is how it works:

  • The damaged piece of coral is recovered from the ocean floor
  • The fragment of coral is then attached to a plug using a safe adhesive
  • The plug is then placed on a rack of some kind and then fixed to a carefully selected farm area on the bottom of the ocean floor. These areas are typically remote and have plenty of natural light which helps the corals to repair themselves and grow.
  • After a 90 to 150 day time period, the corals have repaired themselves and grown enough to be relocated to the parts of the reef that they will thrive in and that need restoration help.

While this process requires lots of effort and funds, whether you are a scientist, a certified scuba diver, enthusiastic volunteer or just want to donate to coral restoration causes, you can reach out to your local coral restoration organization to find out how you can help.

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