June 1, 2023


Moving Forward

Meet The Marine Biologist-Turned-Entrepreneur Restoring Coral Reefs Using 3D Printing And Clay

Vriko Yu introduced a startup on the back again of her Ph.D. research in organic sciences. Now she’s the CEO of Archireef, a weather tech undertaking that is working to restore fragile marine ecosystems by making use of 3D printing technology and some superior previous-fashioned terracotta.

By Zinnia Lee, John Kang and Shanshan Kao

Coral reefs, the sensitive breeding grounds for maritime life, acquire decades to totally form. That’s why Vriko Yu was deeply alarmed when, in 2014, she saw a coral reef community in Hong Kong die in just two months. “That was surprising,” says Yu, a 30-year-outdated doctoral scholar in biological sciences at the University of Hong Kong. “I’ve constantly recognized about local climate adjust, but I did not know that it is taking place at a speed where by I can witness [the death of coral reefs] in these a brief period of time.”

Operating alongside David Baker, a marine biology professor, and other scientists at the University of Hong Kong, they tried a selection of distinctive strategies to restore the fragile marine ecosystem, such as planting coral fragments onto steel grids and concrete blocks. Yet, they identified the newborn corals would often grow to be detached and die.

As frustrations mounted, the group lastly arrived up with a alternative: tiles created out of terracotta making use of 3D printers with diligently crafted layouts that incorporate folds and crevices, enabling coral fragments to grow to be hooked up to the seabed so that they can endure and expand. Yu claims the coral seeded to their terracotta tiles have been in a position to obtain a survival price of up to 98%.

With their prototypes in hand and pushed by the urgent have to have for funding to scale up their operation, Yu and Baker decided to spin off a startup from the College of Hong Kong. The pair cofounded Archireef in 2020 as a climate methods company. With Yu serving as the startup’s chief govt, Archireef, which built the Forbes Asia 100 to Enjoy list very last calendar year, is doing work to rebuild the maritime ecosystems degraded by local weather alter to reach carbon neutrality.

“When it comes to local weather tech, most people are concentrating on cutting down carbon emission,” says Yu in an interview from Archireef’s business in Hong Kong Science Park. “However, I would also like to emphasize that whilst tackling the root lead to is critical and crucial, it is also as essential to do energetic restoration for the reason that mother nature restoration by by itself is pretty slow and it’s not likely to catch up with climate transform.”

Coral reefs only address .2% of the seafloor, but supply outsized gains to the natural environment. About a quarter of the ocean’s fish rely on coral reefs for their meals and shelter at some position in their lifetime cycles, aiding to present a food stuff supply and livelihood for hundreds of hundreds of thousands of persons around the world. It’s believed that coral reefs assist $2.7 trillion a calendar year in items and expert services, like $36 billion in tourism.

Even so, coral reefs are really delicate to warming waters. Corals can eliminate the algae that presents them with food when sea temperatures are abnormally high—a procedure recognised as bleaching for the reason that it’s the algae that provides them their shiny colours.

According to a report produced by the World Coral Reef Checking Community last calendar year, the earth had previously lost 14% of its coral reefs involving 2009 and 2018. A further report revealed in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Weather Alter, the world wide scientific authority on local weather modify, demonstrates that “virtually all” (additional than 99%) of the world’s coral reefs would be dropped if temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius.

Archireef operates on a subscription model, exactly where corporate shoppers and government companies fork out regular charges to go over the maintenance and checking charges of its coral restoration tasks for at least 3 years. In return, Archireef delivers them with a report detailing the ecological impact of their financial investment that they can use for their ESG reports and marketing and advertising materials.

It is approximated that coral reefs help $2.7 trillion a year in products and expert services, such as $36 billion in tourism.

Yu states Archireef is already rewarding and its customers include Hong Kong corporations like jewelry chain Chow Sang Sang and actual estate enterprise Sino Team, which is run by Singapore billionaire Robert Ng.

“We are quite sustainability-minded,” states Melanie Kwok, assistant general manager of sustainability at Sino Team, in an job interview at the company’s The Fullerton Ocean Park Resort Hong Kong. “We have played a purpose to actually defend the ocean.”

The Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel is one particular of the 6 lodge properties owned by Sino Land, the group’s property firm mentioned in Hong Kong. Opened in July 2022, all of its 425 rooms and suites have sea views. “As you can see, all our rooms are experiencing the ocean,” claims Kwok. “That’s why we have a role to engage in. We have a position to educate our prospects and stakeholders of the great importance of preserving the ocean so that we can all see and look at this stunning ocean alongside one another.”

Archireef’s terracotta tiles have so far been scattered throughout around 100 square meters of Hong Kong’s waters. Right after laying the foundations for advancement in the city, Yu now has her sights on overseas expansion—and she’s starting off with Abu Dhabi, the oil-loaded capital of the United Arab Emirates, which has been trying to diversify its economic system right before the fossil-gasoline period finishes.

The startup stated it’s operating with sovereign prosperity fund ADQ to restore an space of 40 square meters of waters around the United Arab Emirates cash, which will turn into the nurturing ground of about 1,200 coral fragments. Final year, Archireef also established a 400 square-meter facility in Abu Dhabi, just after receiving an undisclosed amount of money of funding from ADQ. The facility will surely increase the company’s international enlargement by letting it to mass create its reef tiles.

The Abu Dhabi governing administration introduced in 2021 that the United Arab Emirates aims to achieve internet-zero carbon emissions by 2050, generating the emirate the first in the location to established such a concentrate on. It was Abu Dhabi’s dedication to sustainability that persuaded Yu to set up Archireef’s 1st overseas functions in the United Arab Emirates, which is internet hosting this year’s COP28 local weather summit.

“When we had been contemplating about our enlargement outdoors of Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates seriously arrived up to be one of the strongest marketplaces, not only since of the economic efficiency, but also the press for sustainability,” she says.

Archireef’s ambition does not restrict to just restoring coral reefs. The startup is active expanding its products line so that it can also assistance regrow species that generate the organic habitats for other organisms. These species incorporate mangroves and oysters, claims Yu.

In the meantime, Yu is in a hurry to increase Archireef and deploy its reef tiles around the planet, like in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. She’s racing in opposition to the clock to safeguard coral reefs. “We have presently lost 50% of the world’s coral reefs considering that 1950. And if almost nothing changes, we will shed up to 90% by 2050,” she claims. “So if I can produce just one message here currently, it’s: Make sure you choose the time to grab our final opportunity to reverse climate problems.”

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