While experts and citizens worldwide are striving to protect marine biodiversity, a youngster here has been designing a unique underwater ecosystem off the coast of Puducherry. Seventeen-year-old Siddharth Pillai is the first Indian to create a 3D-printed artificial reef model that has become home to many aquatic species.
“Natural reefs begin when small aquatic animals called polyps attach themselves to a rock on the seafloor and divide into thousands of clones. These organisms lend reefs their vibrant hues and help support millions of marine lives. When the ocean’s temperature rises, corals will evict polyps and lose all its colour, which is known as bleaching. Once bleached, the coral will die in less than 30 days,” he shared.
During previous diving trips, Siddharth has come across many such bleached reefs and decided to make a difference in Tamil Nadu by creating artificial ones to boost aquatic life. However, after a detailed study, he discovered that such reefs can’t be made using just any material. “We had to find something that coral polyps can latch on to and thrive, so we created blocks using a mix of dolomite (composed of calcium magnesium carbonate) and cement,” he said.
The youngster learnt 3D printing during a 45-day workshop last year. “With that technique, we created a mould in which we poured the cement mixture and set it. The first few attempts were disastrous and my balcony-turned-workstation was a mess, but we finally managed to get it right.” What makes the design stand apart is that not only do the blocks have small grooves to help polyps attach easily but, “Every slab is like a building block to enable the reef to be expanded at any time,” he said.
The first of its kind reef was placed on the sea bed off Puducherry last year in October and the project is a hit because many aquatic species have made the model their home. Later this month, Siddharth will be visiting the site to place 200 more blocks that are bigger than the previous one and weigh around 14 kg each.