Coral Maker: Using Robots to Mass Propagate Coral for Restoration

Coral reefs, often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea,” are home to over six thousand species of coral and provide essential resources for marine life. Despite covering only 0.2% of the seafloor, coral reefs support as much as 25% of marine life. However, these vibrant ecosystems are under threat from climate change and human activity, leading to the loss and degradation of reef habitats.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest and most iconic reef, is facing significant challenges. While certain areas of the reef remain in good condition, the number of healthy reefs is declining, and those in poor condition are increasing. In response to this crisis, technology company Coral Maker has developed an innovative solution to accelerate coral restoration efforts, particularly in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.

Traditional methods of coral restoration are slow, typically reviving only one hectare of coral per year. This pace is insufficient when millions of hectares are at risk. Coral Maker aims to tackle this issue by mass propagating coral, significantly reducing the time required for exoskeletal growth until maturity. The corals are grown using locally sourced materials, including natural aggregates and recycled stone waste from the construction industry, minimizing environmental impact.

Through their mass production system, Coral Maker can deploy 10,000 coral skeletons, each containing six to eight fragments, at restoration sites every day. These fragments will regrow in situ, accelerating the recovery of damaged reef habitats. To further streamline the process, Coral Maker has partnered with Autodesk, an engineering software firm, to incorporate robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) into coral propagation. The robots have been trained to handle various coral shapes and species, allowing for effective and efficient restoration efforts.

While the initiative shows immense promise, challenges lie ahead. Moving the robots closer to the reef, potentially onto boats, is necessary but presents difficulties in handling fragile living coral and keeping vital components dry. Additionally, the technology is currently expensive, highlighting the need for further advancements to ensure the success of mass propagation projects.

Despite these obstacles, Coral Maker’s coral propagation method allows coral to reach full size on the reef within 12 to 18 months, a significantly faster timeline compared to traditional methods. In light of recent coral bleaching events and the alarming decline of coral reefs, initiatives like Coral Maker’s offer hope for the restoration and preservation of these vital ecosystems.

– National Geographic
– Autodesk