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Structural Complexity: Augmenting Artificial Reef Designs

In Hong Kong I worked as a research assistant in Dr. David Baker's Coral Reef Ecology lab within the Biological Sciences department of the University of Hong Kong.  

One of the major projects that I worked on was to come up with a design, prototype and proposal for a new type of artificial reef that could be deployed in the coastal waters of Hong Kong.

What made this design different from others is it is meant to allow for scientific experimentation that would provide insight into how the structural complexity of the immediate habitat drove ecosystem functions like diversity and abundance. We saw two major benefits for this setup: 

  1. Provide hard-bottom substrate for coral larvae and fragments in nearby nurseries needing out-planting

  2. Provide a platform for experimenting how the degree of structural complexity affected certain ecosystem functions.

Initially the goal was to provide needed hard-bottom substrate for a number of other projects that are being conducted in the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. But, if something is going to be deployed, why not have it serve multiple uses? Since my project on modeling coral colonies, I had been very interested in the idea of 3D-printing artificial reefs that resembled real coral colonies. From the outside perspective that may seem like a neat idea, but why just copy the physical shape of coral colonies when instead you could augment them in some way? Why not look at creating coral reefs with greater levels of structural complexity to increase the environmental variables that a healthy reef requires? 

This project attempts to investigate the relationship between structural complexity and biodiversity and relative abundance. Structural complexity (rugosity, fractal dimensions, SA/V ratio) is controlled by creating structures that resemble coral colonies, but are instead created using additive manufacturing. This allows for higher levels of intricacy, and their complexity metrics are quantifiable. The dependent variables were to be quantified using Autonomous Reef Monitoring Surveys (ARMS), a standard for measuring cryptofauna in benthic environments. 

Overall, this was an awesome project and something I am really excited to see being executed in the near future. If someone is interested in this area of study, I would highly encourage they look further into ecological engineering, and read up on the work of Grace Young (MIT), and Renata Ferrari (Australia Institute of Marine Science), both of which were inspirational.   

Below are some shots of the designs and manufactured prototypes:

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Tiles 1 (Medium).png
Prototype - 03 (Medium).jpeg
Baker Lab Logo.png
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