Thailand Marine Conservation Project - May 2007
The volunteers on the project in May have been busy as always, working hard to achieve great results and battle the periodic spells of wet and windy weather, which threatens (and often succeeds) to disrupt the dive plans. When the winds pick up, it can get a little hair-raising if caught out at sea, especially in a long tail boat. Despite this we have managed to complete the full quota of dives for the month, carrying out reef monitoring, salvage dives, the usual dive courses and the start of an exciting new research project on coral transplantation and reef rehabilitation. I will begin by describing the coral transplantation project.
Reef rehabilitation is a contentious issue, with many scientists arguing that restoring a reef back to its original health and full biodiversity is incredibly difficult to achieve and is normally not economically feasible on large scales. Furthermore, even if the rehabilitation is successful, if the pressures that caused the reef to deteriorate in the first place are not removed (such as pollution, sedimentation, coastal development and damaging tourist activity), the reef will again deteriorate rapidly. There is still value, however, of carrying out small-scale scientific studies to investigate different methods and compare the cost-effectiveness of each. With this in mind and with the help of staff from Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) and Marine National Park Operations Centre we decided to set up our own project on Koh See, one of the local islands. At the end of a day in which the volunteers collected over 200 broken branching coral fragments that lay scattered on the seabed, two scientists from PMBC gave a presentation on reef rehabilitation, and explained the next day's activity.
Some coral species, once broken off from the main colony, can continue growing if they are able to find hard substrate to grow on. So, the following day we attached the coral fragments back on to the reef using two different methods in the hope of studying which is the most effective and cost efficient. One method was to use plastic cable ties, securing each broken fragment to pieces of dead, but still solid and intact, coral. The other method involved sticking each fragment on to old oyster shells with quick drying cement, on board the Navada, then placing each shell securely on to parts of the reef during a dive. Over the next year, we will return every month to study the survival and growth rate of each fragment, using both manual measuring methods and monthly photographic comparisons. It was a good start to what will hopefully be a very interesting experiment, and one that all the volunteers can observe whilst they are on the project.
As well as the official dive courses, Pam and Guang have been helping the volunteers develop their buoyancy skills using a pvc buoyancy cube that they have to put together under water and then hover in various positions inside the cube. Not only is the hovering quite difficult, but putting the cube together can be a challenge that helps improve buoyancy control tremendously. It is also quite a fun activity and one that we will use more often as buoyancy is such an important skill to master when carrying out conservation diving.
There were four specific salvage dives during May at four different sites, where 14kg of debris was removed from the reefs and seabed. This consisted of the usual fish nets and traps, ropes & plastic bottles that we find on many dives. It is not only during salvage dives that volunteers pick up rubbish; during reef monitoring and fun dives, another 6.25kg of damaging rubbish was collected, making a total of 20.25kg for the month of May. On one dive, a lobster was found in a discarded fish net, so it was cut free and released to continue living. On the dives this month, volunteers have seen some great barracuda (one of which was hunting), a banded sea snake, 2 scribbled filefish, a lantern toby, several seahorses and bamboo sharks, a giant moray eel, a leopard shark and a large pharaoh cuttlefish.
On the terrestrial side of the project, we've had three beach clean ups at Andaman Beach, Klong Muang and Ao Nam Mao. On seeing the volunteers picking up litter, some locals from one of the resorts on Andaman Beach came out to help, and whilst cleaning Ao Nam Mao, Laura, who was struggling with a large tyre, was helped by a couple of locals also. Spontaneous help like this is very satisfying; it can be an unusual sight for locals to see a group of foreigners cleaning their beaches and if it spurs them on to help, or even just to take a minute to think why they are doing this, that is definitely a positive outcome. So, from the three beaches, a total of 524kg of rubbish was removed including a lifejacket, 75 lighters, a dive mask, 30 parts of flip flops, and 150 plastic bottle caps.
The volunteers have spent three days on the mangroves also this last month, carrying out various activities. One day was spent collecting 2236 mangrove seeds, and another day 1348 small plant bags were filled with mangrove soil. This work is done in conjunction with the local community at Baan Thung Prasan, and the villagers clearly collect more seeds and fill more bags in our absence, because on the third day volunteers planted 10,000 seeds into the previously filled bags. The seeds were mostly Bruguiera sexangula, with 374 xylocarpus granatum seeds, which is encouraging to see as it means that a variety of species will be planted towards the end of the wet season, rather than just a mono-culture ecosystem which is not the natural growth pattern of mangrove forests. Our work is greatly appreciated by the village leader, Phairot, and the community as a whole as they have grand reforestation plans that we are helping them to achieve.
So, May has been a productive month all round and the new coral project will hopefully yield some interesting results over the coming months. Plans for June include rebuilding the bridge across the klong at the mangrove research site and subsequently observing the growth rates of our seedlings, an environmental awareness-raising presentation at Klong Muang school with the children helping us clean the beach in front of their school, and a bio-workshop at PMBC on anemonefish and sharks.
5th June 2007,
Director for Thailand Conservation,
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