Robots, limestone are being used to save coral reefs
Faster hardier specimens that can be multiplied and transplanted by robotic arms are being developed by biologists.
Coral reef death and destruction harm the environment by removing a vital ecosystem that fosters biodiversity. With varying degrees of success, experts have experimented with breeding corals in nurseries, cross-breeding to create more resilient species, and adding microorganisms to corals.
The acidity of the ocean's water is rising as it warms and more carbon dioxide is absorbed by it. As a result, coral polyps' ability to extract calcium carbonate from the water and grow naturally slows down. Additionally, the already-formed skeleton may begin to disintegrate.
The chief of Coral Maker, Taryn Foster, is working to create a limestone skeleton for the coral to grow on using the equipment she inherited from her family's masonry business. Despite being faster than it would be naturally, the process is still slow.
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Corals require between three and ten years to complete this process in the natural environment. This can be shortened to a year or a year and a half with skeletons. However, because corals are delicate and particular about their environment, all other factors, including light levels, salinity, water temperature, and current strength, must be carefully managed.
Foster now hopes to reach about 1.7 million corals by producing 280,000 skeletons annually after two successful tests, but in order to do so, a sizable portion of the process will need to be automated.
Foster is developing and training two robotic arms with Autodesk AI in San Francisco, one to cut coral fragments and glue them into plugs and another to attach them to the limestone skeletons.
More of these robots will be built, and the process will be applied globally to aid in coral reef restoration. "I think of this as a delivery or scaling mechanism for these other technologies that people are developing, like coral propagation," says Foster. "Just at a much faster rate and on a bigger scale."
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