This 17-year-old has created India’s first 3D-printed coral reef to save marine life
Siddharth Pillai from Mumbai has raised Rs 2 lakh through crowdfunding and developed a 20 m long reef structure to support marine life.
Over the years, climate change has taken a huge toll on our environment. For instance, the Alaskan glaciers are melting 100 times faster, and marine life is under threat due to global warming.
Even the coral reefs, which provide shelter to many marine organisms and reduce coastal erosion, have been depleting due to pollution, increased fishing, and rising ocean temperatures, which leads to its bleaching and ultimately the death of corals.
With an aim to address the threat to coral reefs in India, Siddharth Pillai, a 17-year-old Class XI student from BD Somani School, Mumbai, has come up with a 3D printed artificial reef.
Named after the late Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, it is touted to be India’s first 3D-printed modular-artificial reef.
Siddharth has been working on the design for over a year now and has also patented his system of interlocking blocks. The 20m 3D-printed reef will be dispersed along the Puducherry coast, and according to a few experts, the marine life will host on the reef within a month.
A scuba diver, Siddharth has been actively diving for the past five years, and has a Masters’ certificate in scuba diving.
During this, he witnessed first-hand how rising ocean temperatures have bleached coral outcrops.
“They lose colour, crumble and die in 30 days. Seeing dead coral on the sea floor is disgusting and heart-breaking,” he says.
Speaking to India Today, Siddharth said,
"When I was sixteen, while scuba diving in the Andamans, I learned about coral bleaching and the precariousness of the global situation regarding the overall marine ecosystem. Since then, I decided to work to the best of my ability to contribute towards rescuing these marine animals, as I felt like I owed it to them.”
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In his quest to find an alternative solution to the problem, Siddharth decided to make a 3D-printed reef. He said,
“I took a 45-day course in May, 2018, working out a way to make the model porous, so corals can latch on to it,” reports Hindustan Times.
His first prototype was a mould with cement mix, which was made at home. But he realised the model had to be big enough to cover the coastline.
Hence, Siddharth raised Rs 2 lakh through crowdfunding and produced about 200 11 kg blocks. Once ready, the 3D-printed block was sent to Puducherry, where Temple Adventures, his dive centre, helped him set up the model in the sea.
The artificial reef will now host marine life and help fish escape the fishing nets as well.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Suneha Jagannathan, a marine biologist, said,
“Artificial reefs are not new. But in India, this is the first, and it shows the potential for soft-coral growth. It’s also a rare chance to see how a new ecosystem develops, what comes first, how it evolves, and how marine life supports itself.”
But, according to Pillai, the artificial reef is just a skeleton on which the polyps can grow but cannot stop the bleaching effect of coral reef.
For that, we need to stop the warming of the oceans in the long run, she says.
Now, Siddharth is working along with Temple Adventures to start a Reef Rebuilding programme. Through this, divers can contribute towards conservation and developing the artificial reef. Further, he will also present a paper on the same at the International Congress of Conservational Biology in Kuala Lumpur this year.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)