Coastal erosion, the gradual disappearance of local marine fauna and of the coral reefs that provide a natural barrier to waves and a habitat for the marina fauna, must be considered the dramatic consequences of both environmental changes and manmade pollution and damage. According to a 2003 study by Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting (CEEC) in the Netherlands, over 27% of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost. It was also estimated that 60% of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed over the next 30 years at the present destruction rate. (Source: Cesar H, Burke L, Pet-Soede L. The economics of worldwide coral reef degradation. The Netherlands, International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) and Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting (CEEC), 2003, you can read the research in pdf here).
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), healthy coral reefs have rough surfaces and complex structures that dissipate much of the force of incoming waves; this buffers shorelines from currents, waves, and storms, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion Furthermore, of the $29.8 billion global net benefit of coral reefs, $9.0 billion is accounted for by the coastal protection coral reefs provide. In the US alone, coastal storms account for 71 percent of recent annual disaster losses. Each event costs roughly $500 million, and while not all of these events occur in areas that would naturally contain reefs, healthy reefs could reduce the cost in those regions that do. Each meter of reef protects an estimated $47,000 of property value. In Florida, the absence of coral reefs would cause parts of the state to be submerged. In Belize, coastal protection afforded by reefs and mangroves provide an estimated $231 to $347 million in avoided damages per year. By comparison, Belize’s gross domestic product in 2007 was $1.3 billion. (Source: NOAA).
As a response to this problem that is reaching catastrophic proportions, a number of agencies and groups worldwide are developing and implementing programs to 1) slow down and mitigate the causes of natural coral reef destruction and, 2) develop plans and strategies for the replacement of damaged and destroyed natural reefs through implementation of artificial reef placement. The US government approach was started through the The National Fishing Enhancement Act of 1985 which included the development of a long term National Artificial Reef Plan. Since then, a number of programs have been initiated at a federal, regional and state level to address and develop funding for artificial reefs.
Recently as response to the need for artificial reef technologies, Desamanera SRL in Italy felt the need to develop innovative solutions to these problems. Their interest was driven by a report by the Italian Ministry of the Environment that estimated that in Italy approximately 42% of the 4,000 kilometers of low-lying coastal areas (on a total of 7375 kilometers of coastline) is eroding and disappearing. Their approach has been to combine the freedom in the design of forms with the performance of 3D printed articles, taking nature as a model and incorporating environmental consciousness issue. While in the past potential solutions to the problem employed traditional approaches i.e. installation of precast concrete structures (often designed for other purposes), or by replacement of sand lost to erosion, the investment costs and negative effects on the environment have overshadowed any benefits obtained.
This is a broad issue that could be discussed in significant more detail from both a scientific and economic point of view that is beyond the scope of this posting. More detailed aspects will be discussed in future postings. Desamanera believes that large scale 3D printing has the potential to address effectively and economically the creation of artificial reefs taking nature’s model that are consistent with the environmental conditions and provide the basis for a natural recovery of the lost ecosystems.