Our Very Own Junkyard
It was my first day back on Koh Tao in 8 months. I was so excited to get back in the water. My first dive was at Junkyard Reef where we were to do our first survey. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I certainly wasn’t expecting what I saw.
What A Difference 12 Months Makes!
As we swam through the centre of the reef, the amount of life that was there was astounding. There was a school of at least thirty Silver Sweetlips, each fish around half a metre in length, hiding amongst some old toilets we’d sunk a few years ago. Above us massive schools of fusiliers filtered the swirling sea.
Herds of Rabbitfish and Parrotfish swam past grazing on the algae that was growing on the structures. And a group of Batfish hovered under a dome of scrap metal. These fish were all here before, but not in such abundance.
This was really spirit lifting for me as I practically watched Junkyard grow from an underwater dessert of sand, to the amazing dive site we see today.
The Development Of Junkyard
In 2006, the metal frame of a shade cover from the top of a boat was found in Mae Haad Reef smashing up the coral. So a group of divers including Nathan Cook (my Dad) went to retrieve it. But instead of taking it back to shore to become landfill, they swam it out to the sand area where it was exactly ten metres deep. And that was the beginning of Junkyard.
In 2008 a bunch of volunteers, including myself, gathered on the beach and prepared for a day of working to expand Junkyard using a bunch of old fins and a fin rack kindly donated by Crystal Dive Resort. The old fin rack, now known, as “Central Station” is still a very popular attraction for both fish and divers.
Over the years, we did many of these “Expanding Junkyard” projects and we learnt through a great deal trial and error. In 2009, we put down a lot of metal objects such as porridge tins and biscuit tins, as they all rusted away in the space of a year; we learnt the obvious but oblivious fact that tin rusts fast.
In 2010, we tried PVC piping. That was sort of a success seeing as we made the replica the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the “Tower of Power” out of PVC, which are still very popular. But the PVC provides the perfect place for the super annoying sea squirts to grow on. These sea squirts basically grow over everything leaving no space for anything else, and they grew even faster on PVC.
We didn’t always build everything. In 2013, Monsoon Gym donated a bunch of old gym equipment to be dropped at Junkyard including a rack of dumbbells and mechanical bikes. These are one of the highlights of the site and are frequently visited by herbivores such as parrotfish and rabbitfish coming to clean them of algae.
Learning From Experience
After about four years of experimenting with different materials, we learnt that steel and cement were the best materials to use because they lasted a long time, they were solid, and they could be made into structures suitable for artificial reefs.
Using this theory, we built cement tables that were designed for planting coral, and we dropped Crystal Dive’s old truck over on the edge of the reef, after we removed the engine and cleaned it, of course.
Becoming A Real Dive Site
As Junkyard grew and developed and attracted more wildlife, it became more and more suitable for divers to dive on a regular basis. Previously it was mainly used by the volunteers working to build it, this was a real giant leap.
But in 2011, the weather was incredibly bad for Koh Tao and only dive sites close to the dive shops were in use, so Crystal Dive became the first dive school to ever take Open Water Trainees to Junkyard.
And as the weather got even worse, more and more dive schools started diving there and many schools on the island came to know and love Junkyard.
In that very same year, the University of Bangkok travelled to Koh Tao with the intentions of making two coral nurseries to be placed at Twin Peaks and Junkyard. When it was finished, it allowed us to easily grow coral on site for future plantation on the structures.
Basically, we would grow smaller coral fragments in the nurseries so that they can get bigger before we plant them on the site. This became very useful in the ever-continuing development of Junkyard.
In 2013, a project sponsored by the Queen of Thailand, and run by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) was to hatch Giant Clams and grow them in a contained environment then send them to Koh Tao to be placed out on to the natural reef to try and improve the species’ dwindling numbers.
The thing is, they come small, much too small to be safe on their own. So we place them in protective cages for up to a year before we put them out on the reef. This is to keep out predators who pose a threat to them.
In 2013, two locations were chosen to host 250 Giant Clams each: Aow Leuk, and Junkyard. A year later, and the clams are each a strong and healthy average 15-20cm long, three times as long as they were a year ago. Half of the clams were transplanted onto the natural reef near Junkyard and the remaining clams were placed around the site as part of the continually growing reef.
Junkyard has been a pleasure to work on and watch grow over these last eight years. To watch a reef develop like that is something truly special. I’m very happy to see it thriving in the waters of Mae Haad and thanks to our tireless work it will hopefully provide enjoyment for divers for many years to come.
Author: Kailash Cook (PADI Eco Diver / Conservationist)
About The Author
Kailash is a PADI Junior Advanced Open Water & Reef Check Ecodiver diver with over 200 logged dives under his belt, most of which are ‘eco dives‘. Living on Koh Tao from 2002 – 2014, Kailash took a keen interest in the underwater environment from an early age, and following in his father’s footsteps is an avid conservationist.
Coming to the end of his summer holidays, Kailash will return to Byron Bay High School to begin Year 8. Not surprisingly Kailash hopes to become a marine biologist and is currently researching to present at the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii.