If you’ve lived in or visited warm oceanside places, you may have marveled at the teeming plant and animal life that makes up and lives around healthy coral reefs. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, it’s become much more common to find diseased or dying reefs, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where coral calcification (which is what ‘builds’ a healthy, living reef structure) has declined 14.2 percent since 1990 – making it more difficult for coral organisms to build their hard exoskeletons. There can be many causes for the distress, or death, of these critical ocean habitats, which some have called “the rain forests of the seas.”1
Ocean acidification, often from increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, is one issue, waters warming more than normal from this and other causes are also a problem, and so are reactions of coral with many chemicals commonly found in sunscreens used by humans. While exploring these water wonderlands, many swimmers and divers are inflicting long-term damage in the process.
Human efforts to repair the damage caused to coral are expensive and slow. To try to address this challenge, an innovative company in Australia, called Coral Maker, is using a novel approach – employing robots – to help!1
The company’s founder, coral biologist Taryn Foster, has found ways with her team to manually create dummy limestone-based ‘skeletons’ for coral to latch onto and grow. But to manufacture these artificial coral skeletons at scale, the company is working with Autodesk AI lab in San Francisco to “develop and train two types of robotic arms with image sensors: one capable of cutting coral fragments into smaller pieces and gluing them into plugs and one that can implant those plugs into the limestone skeletons”. Once these processes are up and running smoothly, Coral Maker’s Foster says, they’d like to install multiple projects on reefs and coastlines around the world.