Coral Reef Rehabilitation Workshop

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Coral Reef Rehabilitation Workshop

In the last week a few of the conservation minded dive schools on Koh Tao came together for a workshop which was organised by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) and the Ban’s Conservation Learning Centre (BCLC). To be a little bit more specific, we learned about coral reef rehabilitation and proper techniques for coral transplantation.

A recent change of law in Thailand was the initial trigger for the meeting. In the past, the DMCR registered more and more involvement on reef conservation projects here on Koh Tao. While every single one of these projects was initiated with the best intentions, not all of them always followed the right standards and sometimes this lack of knowledge did more harm to the reef than doing improving it.

On an island that experiences a huge environmental impact through its main source of business and income (= our tourism industry) it is more crucial than ever that we protect our marine environment and get involved in conservation projects. However, up until now most projects have been organised by each school individually and it’s time to come together as a community, standardize procedures and join forces!

active-coral-restoration-koh-tao

 

What can we do to help?

By law, corals are a protected species in Thailand and this does not only include all of our coral reefs, but also pieces of coral that have broken off, but are still alive. This technically makes it illegal to touch and collect coral fragments with the purpose of re-attaching them to the reef. However, being able to collect such fragments is the first step for any type of coral transplantation, which in itself is an important part of reef restoration.

The Thai government, or in particular the DMCR, recognizes that there is a lot of good work done already on Koh Tao and reached out to help us understand the new law and what we can (and cannot) do in the future to bring forward any conservation projects that involve coral transplantation. Once the right procedures are in place, there will be an authorization to continue with certain reef rehabilitation projects.

coral-workshop-presentation

It was pointed out to us that our efforts in ‘active restoration’ are already very advanced, but there was some room for improvement when it comes to ‘passive restoration’.  Passive restoration is taken to mean when you let Mother Nature do her job and simply provide the best possible conditions for the reef to discover by itself. This could be by continuously improving the overall water quality or joining in on organized clean ups – so something we all can help with on a daily basis.

 

Practical training in the workshop

During the first practical part of the workshop, we learned how to select the correct fragments that can be used for transplantation. The more carefully the fragments get picked out, the higher their chances of survival and re-growing onto their new reef home is. It is important that the fragment (= piece of coral) is not too big and not too small (size does matter!), ideally a max. length of 10cm for branching coral fragments or a diameter of 10cm for round-ish coral chunks. Ideally the piece has only just snapped off recently as it still has to be alive (or at least partly alive). We also learned how to correctly distinguish living coral from dead coral and how important it is to minimize handling the pieces as much as possible.

During day two of the practical workshop we then practiced how to attach each fragment to their substrate. The substrates in our case were concrete plates, but could be any material that allows the coral to re-attach itself and start growing again. Depending on the shape of your coral fragment, you have the option of attaching it with epoxy glue (for chunky bits) or with cable ties (for branching bits).

Mixing the epoxy under water turned out to be quite difficult, as you’ll have to make sure that it doesn’t get in contact with any water before it’s fully mixed. There’s only a small time window before the epoxy starts to harden, so mixing it on the boat and then taking it underwater, wasn’t really an option. The DMCR staff showed us how to mix it inside an air pocket in an upside-down bucket – and even though most people were a bit skeptical to start with, it turned out to be quite a clever trick…

learning-how-to-mix-epoxy

Learning more during future workshops

Overall the two days have been incredibly informative and it was great to see how everyone came together to collectively work on this important project. Now it’s time to monitor our newly transplanted ‘coral-babies’ and we’ll already know in a few weeks’ time if the transplantation was successful.

coral-fragments-on-a-substrate

 

There will be more workshops on this topic in the future, where we’ll learn more in-depth (no pun intended) about reef rehabilitation and proper coral transplantation methods. In the meantime we can get involved by continuously improving the water quality and joining on local clean up events.  I’m excited to learn more about the topic in the future and hopefully putting my new knowledge into practice one day…

 

Photo credit: Dan Lee, private

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