Modeling 3D Printable Coral Reefs with AutoDesk ReCap and an Underwater Camera

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If you have ever wanted to print your own coral reef, then today is your lucky day. A team of marine scientists is capturing coral reef segments in all of their 3 dimensional glory using photogrammetry equipment. They are then turning the data captured through these scans into 3D models. It has all been surprisingly simple, requiring only an underwater digital camera and Autodesk ReCap reality capture software.Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.11.00 PM

The researchers are part of the non-profit organization The Hydrous that focuses on pressing current coral reef science topics and research, and specializes in the use of innovative and intuitive visualizations to help translate scientific data. Marine scientist and founder of The Hydrous, Sly Lee described the benefits of using this technique to capture and study coral reef data:

“Autodesk ReCap gives us a non-invasive, highly accurate and visual method of measuring coral reef growth over time. The high-resolution 3D models make it easy for us to view and monitor growth, physical impacts, disease, and bleaching. This is going to revolutionize coral reef science and education.”

Reff-Arabia-3D-Printed-Coarl-Reef-Top-537x358This is exactly the kind of technology that turns heads in the world of marine science. Coral reefs are like the superstars of the marine community and certainly capture the imagination of the public. They aren’t just pretty, either. They are home to approximately 25% of all marine species and provide the basis for up to $375 billion each year in revenues from fishing, tourist, and diving activities.

Unfortunately, coral reefs are also very delicate and have been facing unprecedented ecological challenges as a result of increases in temperatures of the oceans’ surface waters, over fishing, and the acidification of the oceans’ water. One of the ways that this new technique for measuring and modeling corals can help scientists is by giving them in depth data by which they can assess what changes are occurring and the rate at which they are happening.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.12.24 PMThe models can also be used as part of coral reef education initiatives, allowing students and community members to interact with coral, even if they never go anywhere near an ocean. Creating this type of connection between individual and environment is an important part of the stewardship necessary to generate the initiative to protect these corals. Dr. Ruth Gates of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology understands how helpful these models can be to efforts to protect coral reefs:

“The coral models are incredible. I see many areas where such high-resolution models would be useful. We need a non-destructive way to accurately measure surface area and volume of corals. I think this would also be incredible as a visualization and would definitely get people talking about how fabulous corals are.”

If you want to print out your own corals, two models have been made available for download. You can see more models in orbit mode by visit The Hydrous website coral experience page.  Let us know if you have decided to print out one of these beautiful pieces, and feel free to post a picture or two in the 3D printed coral forum thread on 3DPB.com.  Feel free to play around with the model below.

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