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First-ever 3D printed artificial reefs sunk off Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast

The first 3D printed artificial reefs were deployed on Monday off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast, sinking 25 concrete modules to the Gulf floor to establish new marine habitat. The […]

Okaloosa County Public Information Office

The first 3D printed artificial reefs were deployed on Monday off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast, sinking 25 concrete modules to the Gulf floor to establish new marine habitat.

  • The Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team successfully completed the deployment of these innovative man-made reefs in state waters (within 9 miles of the shore), ranging from 60 to 90 feet deep across five permitted areas, said Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager.

The $403,262 project is just part of a $1.26 million grant received from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Artificial Reef Creation and Restoration Project, which distributes BP oil spill recovery money for loss of use of the resource during the spill.  

This is the second batch of funding from this granting source (first project completed in 2020). Environmental projects like artificial reefs are a great use of these funds as they provide numerous recreational opportunities to divers and fishers while also creating habitat that benefits the ecosystem, according to Fogg.

“We went out to bid and selected two contractors to handle this new reef project,” Fogg explained. “We selected Walter Marine to construct and deploy more than 250 concrete modules and 1Print to pilot a new artificial reef construction method, 3D concrete printing.”

1Print was historically involved in creating housing and mitigation structures such as breakwaters.  They proposed the concept of 3D printing artificial reef modules and it was well received. Fogg collaborated with their team to create larger-scale versions of their models, aiming for substantial structures with plenty of nooks and crannies.

The finalized dimensions measured approximately 14 feet long, 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, weighing 15,500 pounds each. The company can print 3 per day in their south Florida facility. Following construction, 1Print shipped the reefs to Orange Beach, AL and coordinated with Walter Marine to deploy their structures.

  • “It was cool to see two reef contractors working together to make this first-of-its-kind project happen here in Destin-Fort Walton Beach,” Fogg said.

The raw material for the reefs is concrete containing fiberglass rebar rather than traditional steel rebar. This is intended to improve durability in the marine environment. 

Printing the reefs presented some new challenges for 1Print compared to past projects. Transporting the modules required some trial and error but they are confident with the process moving forward.

  • “We found some efficiencies that allowed us to go to mass scale and we’re confident we can go into mass production for future projects as well,” said Adam Friedman, co-founder of 1Print.
Okaloosa County Public Information Office

For a 3D construction company previously focused on real estate development, marine infrastructure provides a meaningful shift toward improving marine ecosystems.

The artificial reefs may tower 8 feet tall on the production floor, but they settle into the sandy bottom and act as a base structure welcoming marine residents.

“We’ve been deploying artificial reef modules here for many years, but these 3D printed reefs offer some nice diversity to the underwater landscape and may open the door to developing more complex structures,” Fogg said.

That diversity could come in the form of additional 3D printed artificial reefs in the future that Fogg says could be anything from structures designed to mimic familiar structures like concrete tanks to airplanes or abstract structures that have never been developed before.

  • “We’re hoping that this 3D technology will open the door for us to get a little more creative. We could have additional military designs that are constructed out of concrete, as opposed to having to source an actual plane or a tank that needs to be demilitarized,” he said. “At the end of the day, after a few years underwater, the growth on the structure will make it hard to tell the difference between a real or printed structure.
Okaloosa County Public Information Office

The designs provide a departure from typical secondary use materials like concrete culverts or retired ships. While Fogg said their more common reefs (prefabricated modules and vessels) effectively sustain sea life already, introducing different shapes and textures is welcomed by his team.

“We’re going to be monitoring these new reefs over time to see how they perform and see if there are design tweaks that we need to make, to make them more attractive to marine life,” said Fogg. “Time will tell how they perform, but this new technology is exciting and the variations from our existing projects continues to show that our area is at the forefront of artificial reef development.”

For 1Print, they could not be happier with the success of sinking these reefs offshore Destin-Fort Walton Beach. 

  • “Alex and his team have been really supportive and they’re very passionate about this,” said Friedman. “It’s great to contribute to the area, the tourism and the ecosystem. We know it’s important to the residents and it’s important to us.”

Coordinates for the new 3D printed modules can be found here.

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