I’m halfway through my time with Eco Koh Tao, Crystal Dive’s in house marine conservation team, and it’s time to look back on what I’ve done and look forward to the upcoming two months.
Three months ago, I arrived on the island of Koh Tao with two aims: Firstly, I wanted to finish my PADI Divemaster (DM) training. I’d been doing a PADI Divemaster Internship back home. When I realised I would not have enough time to finish it in the UK before my departure to Thailand I decided to do a referral. Word of mouth brought me to the award-winning Crystal Dive Resort here on Koh Tao, diving every day and it took me only a few weeks to finish my training.
My second aim was to get more experience in marine conservation. I’m an early career marine scientist with a strong interest in human impacts on marine ecosystems. I wanted to find out more about coral reefs and what we can do as divers to protect them. It seemed only natural to carry on with courses and the internship at Eco Koh Tao – the conservation branch of Crystal – after finishing my DM.
So far, I’ve learned how to conduct Reef Check surveys, do CoralWatch and currently I’m getting familiar with Marine Resource Management.
Crystal and Eco Koh Tao maintain two artificial dive sites around the island. I’ve been involved in the redeployment of structures and transplanting coral fragments onto these structures to create a space for marine organisms to live and divers to explore. Getting to observe all the tiniest animals from crabs to fish that live in and around those fragments is so much fun!
I have also participated in a few dive site cleanups and actually got to organise one of them. I booked one of the three Crystal boats to go to Aow Leuk, a beautiful bay/dive site in the southeast of the island. Sixteen amazing volunteers signed up and we spent two one-hour dives hunting for all sorts of litter in the ocean.
Apart from carrier bags, fishing line, cans, cigarette butts, shoes, etc. we also removed a couple of ghost fishing nets and polyproylene bags that were suffocating the corals. It’s such a rewarding activity and everyone had a lot of fun!
Since Jenny Dowling, the lady who runs Eco Koh Tao, has a lot on her hands and I can’t really expect her to entertain me the whole time. So I decided several weeks ago that it would be nice to have a little research project for myself. I firmly believe that science-based conservation is the way forward so I decided to assess the health of the corals at the two artificial reefs we visit on a regular basis and compare them to one of the natural reefs.
We’re now entering the time of the year with historically the highest water temperatures. This is a tough time for corals and their symbiotic algae. Being stressed by higher water temperatures, corals might expel their algae which is known as coral bleaching. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the coral will die though.
Anyway, I’m digressing. If you’d like to read more about coral bleaching you can do this here (http://www.marinebiology.org/coralbleaching.htm) or more of a short version here (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html).
The staff at Crystal Dive are super helpful and support my project where ever possible. The current group of PADI Divemaster Interns and other friends I made at Crystal Dive are always willing to buddy up – their busy schedules permitting – to join me on my data collection dives.
While I get their help, they learn about how to do underwater research in general and about CoralWatch in particular.
CoralWatch, a citizen-science project from the University of Queensland, Australia, uses a tried and tested methodology to assess the health of coral reefs.
Those data collection dives also give my buddies a good opportunity to practise their buoyancy and navigation skills. My buddies definitely seem to enjoy the work as they are all keen to volunteer again and again.
While I’m going to carry on with my project, I’m also looking forward to many more dives attending to transplanting corals on the artificial reefs, cleaning the ocean and learning more about the basics of artificial reef development such as building structures for these dive sites and educating people about the problems of litter in the oceans.
In spare moments, I’m actually working on a presentation I’m hoping to use to spread the word about those problems to our beach and dive site cleanup volunteers. But, psst, I haven’t told anyone about it yet….
Maybe I’ll use it as a surprise for World Oceans Day.
Author: Christina Thiele (PADI DM)