Being someone who grew up in nature and around the ocean, I have always had a passion for conserving the beauty that I had the privilege of experiencing throughout my lifetime. One of my greatest hopes in life is that my children will be able to enjoy the pristine natural world as well, without it being stolen from them by previous generations who didn’t care enough to save it. That is why my Capstone project will focus on educating young people about the beauty, diversity, and most importantly, conservation of coral reefs around the globe.
My idea is to 3D print coral reef skeletons with naturally derived, environmentally safe PLA materials. I will also 3D print some different types of animals and organisms that grow on coral. These pieces will be small enough for many of them to fit on different areas of the coral at one time. I may have to paint them (with non-toxic paint) in order to mimic the beautiful colors that coral reefs boast. The pieces will have magnets that connect to other magnets on the surface of the coral, so that the user can customize the little reef and arrange the beautiful organisms in any way they choose. I hope to include an educational aspect, perhaps a small book, detailing what these organisms are, what they do, how to ensure their protection, and why conserving them is so important to the future of the planet.
It is no mystery that coral reefs all over the world are in serious trouble. Due to climate change, destructive fishing gear, pollution, sedimentation, nutrient runoff, and other water quality issues, coral reefs are experiencing bleaching events in record numbers and many are dying completely. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the largest coral reef in the world, is drastically being affected by these human-caused issues. 85% of the 2300-kilometer long reef system was harmed by the bleaching event of 2016. Scientists have recently stated that the only way to completely conserve and protect coral reefs is to engage in a global effort to reverse the harmful effects of climate change.
The danger that the coral reefs are currently in will no doubt have a drastic effect on all life on the planet if it is not prioritized and reversed. Coral reefs support an extremely wide variety of wildlife, and scientists estimate that as many as 8 million new species remain to be discovered among coral reefs. Because of the huge amount of animals these habitats sustain, it is safe to say that all life on earth will be effected if the coral reefs are allowed to die out around the globe.
My solution to this ever growing problem is to create a place in the hearts of young people for coral reefs using my small scale educational coral reef tool. If I can manage to convince the people of younger generations to care for and truly love coral reefs, they may have a chance to save this beautiful ecosystem. The first step to fixing a problem is to spread information and create a following of people who care about that problem very deeply, who will then be willing to take step to correct the problem and/or find a solution. Children are a great place to start for this issue. They are the ones inheriting a world affected by the carelessness of the previous generations, and they need to be made aware of it.
Sources that support this information:
Science Magazine: There’s Only One Way to Save the Great Barrier Reef, Scientists Conclude
Coral Reef Alliance
Huffington Post: A Global Effort to Save Coral Reefs
Of course, with such a large and imminent problem at hand, there are many groups trying to find a solution to this massive issue.
Fabien Cousteau and Dutch engineers are currently working on a revolutionary project to 3D print coral reef skeletons in hopes of creating new homes for coral reef organisms and animals to thrive. These 3D printed coral reefs are less vulnerable to the effects of climate change than natural structures, and therefore may be able to endure the environmental challenges that climate change is throwing at them. These reefs mimic, “…the texture and architectural structure of natural reefs in ways that haven’t been achieved in prior restoration efforts.” Experimental installations of the reefs are currently settled in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf, and Australia.
Although this project is revolutionary to coral reef conservation, the creators say that the idea of a man-made structure housing ocean wildlife is “nothing new”. Sunken shipwrecks, plastic, concrete blocks, old tires, and old cars, have provided habitats for animals for years. However, many of the artificial and accidental reefs fail because they don’t fit in with their surroundings. Reefs that are designed and 3D printed to look and feel just like real coral reefs will have the correct, “nooks and crannies, protective space for fish, passageways, doors, and angles that cast shade or light and enable fish to avoid predators or feed.”
The huge structures measure six and a half feet in diameter and weigh an incredible 2.5 tons. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the size of these structures is that they only take 13 hours to print. That is an incredibly fast pace for such a huge print. The downsides, however, are yet to be answered: There are questions as to what the downsides are to this method. Will it work? Is it sustainable? Can the structures withstand a hurricane-strength storm like the natural structures do? The chosen material needs to be extremely strong so as to not deteriorate without having the living tissue inside them that natural coral reefs do.
Another project that is similar to my idea is a project called Crochet Coral Reef. It was created by Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim, and it’s goal is to create beautiful, crocheted art installations that look just like the real coral structures they represent. “The Crochet Reef project resides at the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft and community art practice, and also responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash.” Crochet Coral Reef relates to my project because uses an extremely creative outlet to bring attention to the beauty of coral reefs, as well as the crisis that they are facing. It turns activism into art. It doesn’t offer a direct solution to the problem quite like the 3D printed coral reef project does, but it’s main goal is to create a beautiful artwork that brings awareness to the problem by appealing to the visual beauty that people crave and appreciate.
The last project that has a similar goal to mine is Project REGENERATE. The project is based in the Maldives and is funded by their government and works towards building capacity for marine management and climate change adaptation of ecosystems, local communities and government in the Maldives. Project REGENERATE aims to, “Improve access to science and technology for decision-making and establishing policy frameworks for increasing coastal resilience Increase stakeholder capacity to measure, monitor, and adapt to climate stresses through education, training, and outreach Strengthen governance in support of decentralized management of more resilient reef ecosystems Recommend sustainable financing mechanisms to support climate-resilient marine management.” The objectives of the project are to work with communities and governments to help them measure and understand the impacts of climate change, and develop a strategy to combat it and build resilience, and to promote adaptation. The project aims to first build evidence for the impacts that climate change are having on the region though social and ecological scientific assessments, and then to make communities and governments aware of these findings through trainings and public awareness campaigns. Then, once they have established awareness, Project REGENERATE creates a management plans with the government, and then strategies for sustainability of said plans. This project again focuses on coral reefs and finding ways to conserve them, but on a much more scientific activist scale and does not have an art aspect. It is still very relevant and important, however, and a great project that is hopefully able to find out how to conserve coral resilience in the Maldives and later around the world.
This project satisfies the “DIY (Do It Yourself)” criteria of the many-to-many dynamic of new media. It is certainly a project that the average person can put together with access to a 3D printer and the files that I will create to print it. I feel that it satisfies the “Tap Into Local Networks” criteria as well. The goal of this project is to engage a specific demographic of people to learn about and find a solution to a problem, the problem being coral bleaching.
The outcome I expect of this project is to create a tool which can be used to educate and enthuse children and young people about coral reefs, the organisms that live in them, and the fact that climate change is a significant and imminent threat to their survival. My hope is that the use of this tool will lead to a generation of people who love and respect the coral reefs, understand how important they are to the ecosystem, and commit to reversing the effects of climate change to save it.
There will be quite a lot of creative effort and work hours put into this project. My to-do list is long and I do not expect it to be easy. It will be an immense challenge, but I have broken it down into the following steps to make the task far more approachable:
- Research coral reef organisms/animals
- Keep detailed notes of acquired research
- Choose which organisms/animals can be included in the project
- Draw beginning mock-ups/sketches of coral and organisms
- Create 3D models of coral and organisms/animals on 3D modeling software
- Print scale prototypes of 3D models
- Paint/apply magnets to scale prototypes
- After successful prototype, print first full-size model
- Paint/apply magnets to model
- Give model to my peer who teaches an elementary school class for beta testing
- Gather notes from teacher, make any changes that the teacher believes will make the tool more successful, print final model
- Begin condensing research for accompanying educational book
- Begin sketches/illustrations for book
- Finalize and complete book
- Create website
- Transfer research/pictures/project information onto website
- Edit website style/make website as attractive and educational as possible
- Hopefully send/sell tool to some parents/teachers/interested clients
- Present project at New Media Night
Fortunately for me, the practical resources I will need for this project are rather limited, and many of the necessary resources I have already retained. The things I will need to complete this project are:
- 3D modeling software
- Naturally derived and environmentally friendly PLA filament
- 3D printer
- Group of young people for beta testing
- WordPress account for website
- Color printer