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SCIENTISTS are printing 3D models of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the hopes it could help it recover after bleaching and storms by planting them in the coral.

Researchers at the University of Sydney are creating virtual 3D maps of coral reefs to precisely model how their structure is altering as a result of environmental change.

With her supervisor, Will Figueira, Dr Renata Ferrari established the Ecological 3D modelling hub to precisely quantify the structure of the delicate reef ecosystem.

“The idea behind that was to map, monitor and model the coral reefs and other marine ecosystems in three dimensions,” she said. “If you can create a 3D map, then you can measure it, because you literally have a map of the corals on your computer. You can get anything you want out of it.”

The technology is relatively new, based on photogrammetry: the science of making measurements through photography. These virtual models are being used to print models of the coral that could be planted on the reef to give it support as it recovers from adverse events such as bleaching and storms.

Artificial reefs have been created with cinder blocks or deliberately sunk ships, said Ferrari, “but we’ve never had an artificial reef that resembles a real reef structure”.

“With the 3D-printed reefs, that’s the main advantage. You’re providing the exact same structure that an actual reef provides, because we got the models from the reefs before they bleached. We are literally replicating it.”

Having tested the 3D-printed corals’ resilience in water, Ferrari hoped to plant some on the Great Barrier Reef this year. The extent of the operation and the number of sites depends on funding, though a pilot programme would cost around $150,000.

A full restoration project over five years could cost as much as $1.5m, but Ferrari was hopeful about its potential. It was not too late to save the Great Barrier Reef, she said, despite the doom saying. Though large parts of the northern end had died from sustained bleaching, the south was “pretty much intact”.

Dawn-Guardian News Service

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2017