This thermo-responsive gel has the potential to stop coral bleaching.

As one of the biggest threats to coral reefs and marine life in general, rising water temperatures caused by climate change cause coral to stress, expelling their algae and ultimately fading it to a ‘bleached’ state that often results in the death of both the coral and its vibrant ecosystem. Without intervention, scientists predict that by the end of the century, coral reefs as we know them will cease to exist.

Now, designer Sunny Lustov has created plant-like underwater formations that protect coral reefs from the threat of rising temperatures. The Nereids underwater structures for coral reef cooling employ thermo-responsive biocompatible hydrogel to automatically cool at-risk areas of the ocean.

Lustov compares the gel to ice in that when it is exposed to heat, it absorbs it, undergoing a phase change, and whitening and shrinking. Each phase transition exhibits a cooling capacity of one degree Celsius per gram of gel for every ten grams of water. However, unlike ice, the ‘melted’ gel takes the form of a thin, coherent sheet, which enables it to be repeatedly activated for heat absorption.

To amplify the gel’s cooling impact, Lustov designed the structures to fold and encapsulate water within the gel sheets during each phase change in a kind of ‘responsive geometry’. In normal temperatures, the leaves are open, allowing water to flow freely through them. When heated, the leaves contract and fold, capturing cool water within them and in this way forming a cooling vessel that maintains a balanced temperature over extended periods.

‘By embracing novel materials and technologies, we can create a world where the beauty and diversity of the coral reefs flourish for centuries to come,’ says Lustov. ‘In this envisioned future, the human-made ceases to be a menace, transforming instead into a nurturing refuge for its natural surroundings.’

Each Nereid can be anchored to the ocean floor using conventional ecological mooring methods that vary according to the ground type. Each base unit is equipped with a buoy that keeps the soft, bendable structures upright.

Find out more about the project here: https://www.sunnylustov.com/copy-of-camo


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Photographs: Sonny Lustov.