In the wake of the global climate crisis and the acidification of oceans due to rising temperatures, coral reefs around the world and their ecologically diverse inhabitants have been drastically affected. Particularly, fish living among or in close relation to coral reefs who often use the reefs to hide from predators, but with corals disappearing, fish are getting exposed to larger predators, endangering their species.
In a quest to mitigate the damage, researchers from the University of Delaware have managed to 3D-print coral reefs that fish are happy to call home. The scientists presented a tester fish with an artificial 3D-printed coral and with a natural coral skeleton and studied whether the fish preferred one habitat over the other. To their surprise, the researchers noticed that the animal behaved the same around both structures.
As conservationists have been increasingly considering 3D-printed coral models to fuel the recovery of coral reef systems, such promising research results offer new hope for the restoration of these lush marine ecosystems.