Artificial reefs are a means to restore or add more habitat for reef animals or growing surfaces for corals. Artificial reefs are widely used to replace reef structure lost due to human activities, increase reef size, provide alternative diving or fishing areas, and bolster local economies dependent upon reef health. Koh Tao has several artificial reefs around the island, which have been constructed over the last 5 years with the local Save Koh Tao community group, island dive schools and businesses, and government groups like the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).
In May of 2013, the DMCR and PTTEP donated the materials for an addition to the Suan Olan diver training and artificial reef area, located in Ao Leuk Bay. Volunteers from the DMCR and two local dive schools, New Heaven Dive and Sunshine Divers, worked to make 40 artificial reef modules out of metal, using a design and technique developed by the NHRCP. The structures are designed to use as little materials as possibly, be structurally sound for at least 10 years, and provide ample growing area for corals and habitat complexity for fish.
On May 25th, the DMCR and three local dive schools (Crystal, New Heaven, and Sunshine) joined up at the site in Ao Leuk Bay to deploy and propagate corals onto the structures. The structures are easy to transport and deploy, all 40 were placed into one large longtail boat, and then simply dropped into the sands at the site.
Next, about 30 volunteer divers walked the structures into place, to form two lines leading from the Suan Olan site to the MINI Square artificial reef. Two days before the project, a team from the NHRCP spent a long day finding naturally formed coral fragments from a wide range of genera and secured them onto ropes. These ropes were placed onto floating mid-water coral nursery so that they would be ready for the big deployment day on the 25th. This is a good technique when using volunteers and non-professional teams in reef restoration, as all of the work requiring intensive training is completed beforehand. After the structures are moved into their final position then the ropes containing all of the coral fragments are brought over and volunteers can easily and quickly attach them to the metal artificial reef modules.
In fact, the whole process to get 40 structures down and propagated with corals took just one long dive with 30 divers. The second dive was spent mostly fixing small mistakes or unsecured corals, taking pictures, and doing an underwater clean-up in the area.
Collaborations between local reef managers and government groups are, in our opinion, one of the most effective ways to bring about the large scale, dispersed system of coral reef protection and management needed to keep reefs surviving in the coming century. In our case, we have a great team of local volunteers, with over 46 dive schools on our island. But, we lack the materials and resources to complete many necessary projects. The Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) has the resources and funding, but lacks the short-term or long-term manpower to deploy and maintain related projects. Together, we meet each other’s needs perfectly, and many great projects have been completed through our relationship together, including the Suan Olan site, the Tanote reef balls, the HTMS Sattakut Wreck, the maintenance of all the mooring lines around the island, coral nursery workshops, and more.
When all of the stakeholders get involved in the protection of the environment there is no limit to the success which can be achieved. The new environmental movement will be one of more businesses taking responsibility for their negative externalities, and more governments giving the needed power to create change to the people on the ground, those most dependent on the ecosystems being protected. We look forward to many more great project collaborations with the DMCR and other groups from the Thai government. For now, our island has a great new addition to our Ao Leuk artificial reefs to work on and enjoy.
(check out some more great photos from this project on our facebook album for May 25th, 2013)