Effectiveness of Artificial Reefs

Artificial Reefs, coral nurseries, and alternative dive sites are all important and effective tools at decreasing the rate of coral reef decline around the globe. Recently, a New Heaven Reef Conservation Program Intern, Robert Nichols, undertook a research project to evaluate the effectiveness of these methods on reducing diver damage around Koh Tao. His study consisted of handing out surveys to many local dive instructors of dive school managers to get information on their perceptions and use of the various sites around the island. He also went to each site and took data on the types of structures present, the abundance of marine life, and the use by divers. His paper describes the success of each artificial reef, and gives recommendations to help the local community increase the effectiveness and use of structures and sites created in the future.

Buoyancy World Koh Tao

Divers practice their buoyancy and self-awareness skills at Buoyancy World

Currently, the community of Koh Tao has constructed 6 artificial reefs or alternative dive sites over the past several years through the Save Koh Tao Marine Branch. Some of these projects have also been supported or built by the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources or the Thai Navy. The main goals of these projects are to increase the available habitat for corals or other marine life, extend reef areas, or construct alternative dive sties and diver training aids. Alternative dive sites are an important conservation tool for the island of Koh Tao, which is one of the world’s top SCUBA diving training locations. Each year more divers arrive, but the amount of reefs for them to use is the same or even less. This means that more divers have a larger negative effect on the reef through contacts or kicking corals each year, and leave less and less time for the corals to recover.

In his study, Nichols found that in 2012, around 45% of divers had dived an artificial reef or spent part of their time there. This is a huge success on the part of the projects, meaning that a substantial amount of divers are spending time and training at the constructed reefs instead of the natural ones. He also found that 90% of the dive shops ‘felt they had benefited from the artificial reefs.’ The most popular sites were by far the HMS Sattakut Wreck (deployed in 2011 by PTT, Thai Navy, and DMCR) and Buoyancy World (deployed in 2009, then again in 2011 by Save Koh Tao and 8 local dive centers).

This study is very helpful for our community to rate the success of the work we have been doing, and also to improve our techniques in the future. Well thought out and implemented research projects like this are a major part of our conservation goals here on the island of Koh Tao, and we are always very pleased to have students such as this come to conduct projects. The study was completed as part of a bachelors thesis project at the University of Cumbria, and the full version of the study, including graphs and tables is available here:

Download the full version PDF

Please respect the work of the author, and reference this study if you plan to use the data or information contained, thank you.