These Underwater Robots Could Repair Ailing Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena on our planet, but their purpose goes far beyond visual enjoyment. Did you know that coral reefs provide a living for over 500 million people across the globe? The coral community is really a system that includes a collection of biological communities, representing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. But like many other ecosystems on this planet, the coral is in dire danger of disappearing.

Climate change, pollution and over-fishing are the three main threats to coral reef health, and I’ll bet you can guess who’s winning the battle. So far, current efforts to protect and conserve coral reefs are failing, but a new project gathering funding on Kickstarter might present a viable alternative. Coral-Bots are autonomous underwater vehicles that could help cultivate new growth in parts of a reef that are dying.

coral bot

Image via CoralBots

Contrary to what you might think, coral reefs are capable of healing themselves, even from destruction caused by ships and careless tourists. The problem is this self-healing process can often take many years of even decades. In the past, divers have been used to reattach living coral to reef sections that have been damaged, but it’s time-consuming and expensive. Using swarm technology, the CoralBots team thinks their underwater robots can lend a helping hand to speed up the process.

“Coral-bots are a team of robots that intelligently navigate across a damaged coral reef, transplanting pieces of healthy corals along the way,” explain the team. “The big job of developing and testing the robots at sea has already been done. All that remains is to embed the robots with computer vision to ‘see’ healthy bits of coral, and configure appropriate manipulator arms for each robot to pick up and put down the pieces in the right spots.”

In order to take this next step in development, the CoralBots team is running a Kickstarter campaign. If they meet the $107,000 goal, they’ll be able to purchase and assemble a CoralBot prototype, and conduct the first live demonstration of the robot team on a coral reef in a public aquarium.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog