xCoral Project

xCoral Project

Reef Centered Design

Ezri Tarazi1, Haim Parnas1, Ofri Lotan1, Majeed Zoabi1, Asa Oren2, Noam Josef2, Nadav Shashar2

1: Technion, Israel Institute of Technology; Department of Architecture and Town Planning, Design-Tech Lab

2: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Department of Life Sciences

Coral reefs around the world are experiencing a continuous process of degradation (Pandolfi et al. 2003) which is a result of both anthropologic and natural causes (Terence P. Hughes 1994; Booth and Beretta 2002; Pandolfi et al. 2003; Adger et al. 2005). These causes include, among other factors, diseases, a rise in ocean water temperature, ocean acidification, tourism, and over fishing of reef fishes.

Coral reefs are complex ecosystems which are characterized by high biodiversity. A correlation exists between the complexity of a coral reef’s and the biodiversity surrounding it, this correlation can be partially explained due to the fact that diverse microhabitats attract different populations (Terence P. Hughes 1994; Pandolfi et al. 2003; Messmer et al. 2011). The fish community of a coral reef plays an important role in maintaining high coral abundance, as well as preventing phase shift from a coral environment to another- such as an algae one.  This may occur when seaweed covers the corals due to the lack of herbivorous organisms (Terence P. Hughes 1994). studies have shown the contribution of fish abundance to the health of individual corals and to the coral reef community (Knowlton and Jackson 2008; Terry P. Hughes et al. 2010; Dixson and Hay 2012). Dixson and Hay (2012) showed that when a coral has been damaged by harmful seaweed that settles on it, the coral release chemical cues which signal the herbivorous fish that live in symbiosis with the coral to remove it.

Many factors are known to affect the recruitment of reef organisms and especially fish. One important factor is the structural complexity of a coral colony, which in turn provides shelter to residing fish. Two well-studied corals include Pocillopora and Acropora, which are branching corals that provide shelter and sites for foraging and breeding (Chase et al. 2014; Mercado-Molina, Ruiz-Diaz, and Sabat 2016; Limviriyakul et al. 2016). It has been shown that a coral structural complexity correlates with the reef biodiversity. Additionally, it is suggested that different populations interact differently with various morphologic structures of corals (Kerry and Bellwood 2012; Graham and Nash 2013; Untersteggaber, Mitteroecker, and Herler 2014).  Morphologic structures can be divided into many categories in order to be able to characterize them. Such characteristics can include, among others, ecological volume, number of branches and lateral dimension etc., these morphological characteristics may have different effect on the different coral symbionts (i.e. fish, worms, etc.)(Abraham 2001; Shaish, Abelson, and Rinkevich 2006; Kerry and Bellwood 2012; Graham and Nash 2013). To date, we are yet to understand why specific populations will prefer to inhabit one morphologic structure over another (Untersteggaber, Mitteroecker, and Herler 2014; Wehrberger and Herler 2014; Mercado-Molina, Ruiz-Diaz, and Sabat 2016).

Quantification and assessment of a coral structural complexity is not a trivial task, and many approaches were applied in order to achieve that goal. Various methods were used by researchers, “chain of tape”, visual assessment approaches, as well as others. many experiments were conducted in an effort to understand the effect of that complexity on the reef ecosystem, by attempting to mimic the coral morphological characterizes (Graham and Nash 2013). In one such study which took place in 2012, Kerry and Bellwood compared the abundance, biomass and residence time of fish hiding in three different morphologic structures: tabular, massive and branching corals. Later they further examined the potential role of shade or concealment by using artificial structures mimicking tabular morphology. Other work conducted in 2014 by Untersteggaber, Mitteroecker and Herler compared the difference in the skeletal morphology between corals occupied with Gobiid fishes and unoccupied ones.

One approach to examining the interactions between coral structural complexity and biodiversity and reef community structure is by forming artificial models in which some structural aspects may be controlled and manipulated. One such technique is using design tools such as 3D manipulation in CAD and 3D printing technology.

As a research group that is composed of marine biologists and designers, we seek to find the next practices and tools to explore the ecological functionality of coral morphology. We believe that coral reef rehabilitation, management, and artificial reef construction require a better understanding of how the single coral colony morphology interacts with its inhabitants (Dixson and Hay 2012; Chase et al. 2014). In the current study, we aim to implement design tools such as 3D manipulation and 3D printing, using various printing materials, to examine this question. We have conducted initial design experiments in which natural coral colonies were scanned, 3D manipulated, and 3D printed.

After an initial approach, we have succeeded to high-quality design tools for such a task and have been producing printed corals from a bio-plastic material. We have installed and observed fish recruitment on a natural reef at the Red Sea and conducted choice experiments in the laboratory. Preliminary results suggest that Pseudanthias squamipinnis fish prefer some combinations of material and color over natural corals, while they rejected other combinations.

We expect that this approach will enable us to better understand the complex relations between coral architecture and fish recruitment, and lead towards creating a design guideline for reef resilience and restoration. Co-Designing with such complex nature and biodiversity enable us as designers to better understand our ethical role in ‘reef centered design’. We hope this research can inspire more designers to use their skill-set and a wide range of knowledge to take part and support to restore the collapsing ecologies of the coral reefs around the globe.

The goals of this study are (1) examining advanced design tools such as 3D scanning, 3D form manipulation and 3D printing technologies as a substance for creating temporary artificial corals. (2) to better understand the interactions between coral structure and the various fish species that recruit into and live within it. Successful implementation of this study can enhance our understanding of corals interactions with their surrounding environment, provide design tools for public displays and other large-scale aquariums that will reduce their dependence on live corals, and provide valuable design guidelines and tools when approaching the matter of active coral reef restoration.


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