Caribbean
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Caribbean - Researchers create new method for making lifelike aquatic artificial habitats

Researchers have devised a new method of making lifelike aquatic artificial habitats that could help scientists better understand and restore real-world environments.

Aneri Garg, who completed the research as part of her master’s studies under the supervision of Stephanie Green, first developed the 3D scanning, printing, moulding and casting (3D-SPMC) method on a project involving coral reefs. As Garg explains, studying the features of living habitats that attract and retain different organisms is crucial in research on ecological habitat selection and, by extension, restoration planning.

“In particular for biogenic (live) habitats, they all have some kind of structural features or architectural complexity to them, but they’re also made of living tissue,” says Garg. “We’re trying to answer as many foundational questions as possible on these really important habitats.”

Green notes that coral reefs in the Caribbean, where Garg and Green work, have lost 80 per cent of their corals in recent decades. Lost or degraded habitats, including aquatic habitats such as coral reefs, have also been identified as the main threat to 85 per cent of the species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s “red list” of threatened species.

Garg and her team were able to create 3D artificial habitats that look lifelike and remain stable underwater, allowing for extended observation and providing an important tool for studying the behaviour of fish and other underwater organisms.

Garg notes that the 3D-SPMC method can be used for a wide range of purposes, including restoration planning for aquatic environments, and each stage in the process can be altered or adapted to suit specific needs.

Garg notes that the 3D-SPMC method can be used for a wide range of purposes, including restoration planning for aquatic environments, and each stage in the process can be altered or adapted to suit specific needs.

An interdisciplinary method

To create the method, Garg first took stock of current practices for creating these types of artificial habitats, examining the materials and methods used and what some of the challenges and limitations have been. Then, she created an integrative method with three key metrics in mind — accessibility, scalability and ecological considerations.

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