ABOUT CORAL MAKER
Coral reefs are one of the ecosystems most threatened by climate change. Addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential for the continuation of coral reefs as functional ecosystems. However, even if warming is capped at 1.5°C, corals are still projected to decline to 10-30% of their former cover, that is a loss of 70-90% compared to pre-industrial coral cover, in the best-case scenario. If warming is capped at 2°C, coral cover is predicted to decline to less than 1% of former cover. To sustain ecological services and the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide, it is critical to not only combat climate change, but also offset the loss of coral through effective coral reef restoration.
The single biggest problem in current coral reef restoration practices is scalability; ecologically meaningful restoration at the reef scale has so far been unattainable. Corals are being cultivated for restoration efforts via fragmentation (coral gardening/ propagation) or sexual reproduction. However, both of these techniques are currently extremely labour intensive, and therefore slow and expensive, which has prevented them from being applied at the reef scale.
There are many bottlenecks in the process that need to be addressed to attain reef scale restoration (i.e. millions to tens of millions of corals per year), yet there are currently no products specifically designed for coral restoration at this scale, and there are currently no private entities or organisations using existing manufacturing and automation technology to mass produce corals. This is partly because current restoration (and restoration for the past several decades) has been conducted by scientists and volunteers, mostly in small scale operations. To mass produce corals, it is essential to partner with industries that have decades of experience in mass production - the manufacturing and technology industries. Multidisciplinary thinking and cross-industry collaboration are going to be critical to producing solutions in the ever narrowing window of time left to save coral reefs.
Coral Maker is founded on the concept of redesigning and repurposing existing manufacturing technology to address the scale issue in coral production. This approach is based on relationships and collaborations between coral reef scientists (California Academy of Sciences) and manufacturing technology experts (Autodesk). Coral Maker integrates concepts from the manufacturing industry (design, automation, mass production) with concepts from coral science (propagation, fusing and recoating surfaces) to both remove manual tasks and bypass much of the calcification required for coral colonies to achieve adult size.
The idea is to design and mass manufacture pre-made coral skeletons, with built in fittings for easy or automated seeding with live coral material. These coral “seeds” will then recoat the pre-made skeleton with live material, achieving adult, habitat-forming size, over months instead of years. The seeding process, which is currently a repetitive, manual task, can be automated in places where there are available resources. In locations where automation is not feasible, the manual seeding process will be far quicker and more user-friendly, with the seeds designed to click into place in the manufactured skeleton and the base also designed for rapid attachment to the reef. In both cases (automation or manual seeding), using design to create a more user-friendly and streamlined product and process, has the potential to increase production of corals by orders of magnitude. Most importantly, the designs will allow for mass production with currently scalable manufacturing technology. Our designs are specifically for mass production using dry cast moulding, a ubiquitous and highly scalable masonry manufacturing technique.
Simulated production line with dry cast manufactured coral skeletons and automated seeding.