3D printed mangrove root texture

Modern Mangroves

As Pantone’s colour of the year – Living Coral – reminds us, the world’s waters are in dire straights.  Despite oceans covering 70% of the earth, humans have really made their mark on these vital ecosystems, with half of them being over-fished, low-oxygen ‘dead zones’ quadrupling since 1950, and a reported trend leaning towards fish-less oceans in 2048.  And that’s all without mentioning the greatly publicised impact that plastic waste is having on marine life.

Volvo's living sea wall
Volvo’s living sea wall

But it’s not over yet and some companies are coming up with innovative ways to stop the flow of damage before it’s too late.  One notable company, not usually linked with the tile world, has collaborated with Reef Design Lab, SIMS (Sydney Institute of Marine Science), and the North Sydney Council to further their fight against plastic pollution.

Volvo has been implementing beach clean-ups alongside their Ocean Race and has now taken it a step further to offset some of the damage caused by Australia’s urbanised coastal regions which now see more than half of Sydney’s shoreline being artificial, with native mangrove swamps replaced by seawalls.

Volvo's hexagonal 3D printed mangrove root imitation tile
Volvo’s hexagonal 3D printed mangrove root imitation tile

This potential sea-saving product comes in the shape of a hexagon with an artificial 3D printed mangrove root system.  It is designed to imitate the habitats of filter-feeding organisms, such as oysters, which should help absorb pollutants and keep the water clean, as well as providing a home for other marine life such as crabs, seaweed and fish.

They use recycled plastic to reinforce the marine-grade concrete tiles that are then installed along existing seawalls, and are set to remain there for years to come whilst researchers monitor them.  The plastic is contained within the concrete to ensure it has no contact with the water so as to prevent it being reintroduced into the ocean in the form of microplastics.

3D printed mangrove root texture

Their life span is dependent on how well their structure fares after decades of erosion and on how effective they are at maintaining the life in the ecosystems they’ve been developed to mimic. It has also been supposed that if a tile needs replacing, it would be possible to swap them with a freshly printed substitute and that the life colonising the worn tile could be transferred.

The first installation saw 50 tiles placed at Sydney Harbour to create the Living Seawall and has since been complemented with a further 108 habitat panels designed by Alex Goad from Reef Design Lab. The whole project will see 500 of these panels installed on the seawall in the hopes of finding the key to designing marine infrastructure.

Habitat panels designed by Alex Goad from Reef Design Lab

Read more about the projects here:

Volvo’s Living Sea Wall

Reef Design Lab’s 3D Sea Wall

A new post by Hanna Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, February 2019.

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