Ceramic Additive ManufacturingSustainability

3D printed terracotta reef tiles successfully installed in the Arabian Gulf

Thanks to a collaboration between ADQ, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), and Archireef

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ADQ, an Abu Dhabi-based investment and holding company, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), the region’s largest environmental regulator, and Archireef, a climate technology company headquartered in Hong Kong, have successfully deployed artificial 3D printed terracotta-based reef tiles intended to aid coral restoration in the Arabian Gulf off the shore of Abu Dhabi.

The partnership between ADQ and Archireef, announced in November 2022, funds research and development of eco-engineering solutions for marine biodiversity restoration – combining scientific research with the use of the latest technologies in 3D printing, IoT, and AI. Through the partnership with Archireef, ADQ aims to capture opportunities in innovative areas that simultaneously benefit the environment and mitigate climate change-related risks, while contributing to the preservation of habitats and species under the umbrella of its wider ESG aspirations.

The project is an innovative addition to the efforts of EAD, whose marine ecosystem preservation and rehabilitation initiatives rank among the top ten global initiatives, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The Agency provided the project with logistical support and expertise, and the team of coral experts from EAD worked closely with ADQ and Archireef on assessing and selecting the site – providing corals to the project from EAD’s in situ coral nursery.

Source: Archireef.

The tiles were designed by a team of marine biologists and architects and produced through custom 3D clay printing in Archireef’s new production facility in an economic zone under the KEZAD Group. In contrast to other types of artificial reefs, the 3D printed terracotta reef tiles are environmentally friendly and engineered to closely mimic the natural pattern of corals and prevent sedimentation build-up, which is a major threat for corals.

The out plantation site, selected in partnership with EAD, is a marine protected area near Um Khorah Island in the Al Dhafra Region, in Abu Dhabi, featuring 40m² of reef tiles housing around 1,200 coral fragments grown in specialized nurseries, owned by EAD. The deployment of the tiles was completed by a team of seven scuba divers over the course of five days. Continuous monitoring of the deployment site will provide data on the performance of the corals, including photographic updates to capture the recruitment of fish populations.

“Our partnership with Archireef brings a unique and innovative coral restoration method to Abu Dhabi to safeguard our Emirate’s natural environment and promote sustainable development. It is a memorable moment for ADQ to be part of this project providing a lifeline to endangered coral reefs, which is the first of its kind in the UAE and the wider region. Underlining our commitment to adopting practical solutions powered by R&D and innovation to address environmental challenges, this biodiversity restoration initiative aligns with our ESG aspirations, and we believe it will have a positive impact not only on our planet but also on local communities we operate in,” said Anas Jawdat Albarguthi, Chief Operating Officer at ADQ.

“This project highlights the importance of embracing the use of innovative technologies to assist in the restoration of marine biodiversity. Partnerships between the private and government sectors are key to ensuring the protection of vulnerable habitats and research into species such as coral reefs. This specific project is an extension of all our marine restoration initiatives and our region’s first coral reef restoration project in particular. Furthermore, it is part of our efforts towards climate change adaptation and mitigation which is a priority for us at EAD, especially with the UAE hosting COP28 this year,” said Ahmed Al Hashemi, Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity sector at EAD.

“With reference to the industry-leading coral survivorship levels of 95% which we accomplished in a comparable project in Hong Kong, there is good reason to believe that the Abu Dhabi marine ecosystem will derive similar benefits from the deployment of our innovative terracotta-based reef tiles. As the Emirate ramps up climate change mitigation efforts in line with national objectives and targets, we hope to make a contribution to biodiversity restoration. From a biological perspective, our tiles offer corals the critically important foundation to settle on, which is the basis for rebuilding and rebalancing the fragile marine ecosystem,” said Vriko Yu, Co-Founder, and CEO of Archireef.

Abu Dhabi waters are known to house 34 different types of hard coral. Around the world, coral presence has been observed to have declined over the past decade. According to AQD, in 2017 alone, the Emirate lost 73% of its reefs due to mass coral bleaching, caused by an increase in water temperature.

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