Location: Koh Tao, Thailand
Today was a great culmination of both the sciences and scuba diving for the semester. After a pancake breakfast, we dinghied to the shore of Koh Tao, where we walked down the beach to the New Heaven Dive Shop. Here we met with Chad and the rest of the crew with the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program. Chad gave us a great lecture on coral reef restoration, and they work that they are doing in Koh Tao. We had already learned about coral reefs and in particular artificial reefs from our first literature review in Marine Biology, so we already had a good idea of what Chad was talking about, but it was cool to hear about the specific types of artificial reefs they used here and his perspective on artificial reefs as a researcher and conservationist. He walked us through the process of creating an artificial reef, which we got to help with today. Months ago, they collected small pieces of broken coral that were still alive and tied them to long pieces of line, which were then strung up in a “coral nursery” area, much like clotheslines. Here, they were able to grow in ideal conditions until they were ready to be transplanted to their final home on an artificial reef. The structures we were working with today were four pyramid-shaped structures made of metal. We loaded them up in the dive boat along with ourselves and our gear and headed around to a nearby bay where we would deploy them. A few of their team free dove with each structure 10 m down to the sandy seafloor, and then we all jumped in with our scuba gear and descended. The structures weren’t quite where they wanted them to end up, so those of us wearing booties took off our fins and walked the structures to their final position – pretty fun and different experience to walk across the seafloor in scuba gear! Once in position, we swam over to the coral nursery, and each removed a line with about eight pieces of coral attached to it, then returned to our structure, where we wrapped the line around the pieces of metal. We made sure that the coral was resting snugly against the metal so that the coral would eventually attach itself and grow over the metal structure. When we were done, we got to swim around and check out some of their older artificial reefs, giving us a good idea of what our structures would look like in a few months or years. It was a really cool experience to actually do something while diving other than just swimming around and looking at things, as most of us had never done any sort of work underwater. It was also great to be able to take something we learned about in class and apply it to a real-life situation, giving us a better understanding of what we learned. We left the dive site and returned to Argo feeling accomplished because we contributed to the conservation of the coral reefs in Koh Tao, and I know we all hope to return to the beautiful island one day to check in on what will hopefully become a thriving part of the ecosystem.