In 2007, a 3-day course was first developed where participants would spend one day learning about reef ecology and monitoring programs, the following day helping to maintain the Taa Chaa Biorock, and ended on the final day with an underwater clean-up. With this course, the NHRCP was born.
Some great work was accomplished in these early days of the marine conservation program, but it was difficult to predict the program's future trajectory. By the end of the second year, the 3 day marine conservation training program had evolved from it's humble beginnings into an intensive two week conservation program. From there the reef conservation program would only continue to grow, now including a vast array of marine conservation projects and initiatives.
Since the New Heaven dive school first opened in 1995, they have been committed to safety, professionalism, and especially the protection of the marine resources around the island. They feel that as a business they have an inherent responsibility to protect the area where we all live, work, and play. With the current global green movement, we feel strongly that it is important for businesses to truly be green, and not just in their marketing. That is why they have always dedicated themselves towards marine conservation and social projects; their own and those being undertaken together with others here on the island.
Through the early years (1995-2005), New Heaven Dive School hosted a wide range of visitors including NGOs and Universities, many of which were looking to conduct humanitarian projects and scientific research on the island. Their main collaboration however, was with Thai groups such as the Thai Royal Navy and Khun Jintana, known locally as Queen of the Giant Clams. Working with these groups enabled us to gain important knowledge about coral reef ecology and marine conservation in general. Projects such as mooring buoy installation, coral restoration, and crown of thorns research was carried out by these groups, and New Heaven was always there to assist and help make these projects successful.
By 2006, New Heaven was hosting and participating in all the great projects being conducted by the Coastal Preservation and Development (CPAD) Foundation. The CPAD foundation was a joint American-Thai non-profit with great ideas and innovations for marine conservation projects here on Koh Tao. These projects included reef and water quality monitoring, kids swimming/diving program, digital mapping of the island, vegetable oil recycling and biodiesel production, marine education during IDC courses, and much more. Unfortunately, the CPAD group ran into financial difficulties and were forced to stop the good work they had started on Koh Tao. Being so involved with CPAD we felt it would be a real loss to the island and to everyone concerned with marine conservation if the work stopped, so based on that training and vision, we started the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program (NHRCP) in 2007.
In 2007, the NHRCP was started. The idea of the program was too get dive instructors, divemasters, and some advanced divers trained in coral reef ecology and some very basic marine conservation projects. Chad, while working on his Bachelor’s degree thesis, wrote a 3-day course in which participants would spend one day learning about reef ecology and monitoring programs, spend one day helping to maintain the Taa Chaa biorock, and then the last day do a clean-up. The first two students to take that course were Frank and Vera, who have since come back a few more times for longer, and who have now started their own coral restoration company based in Holland.
By the end of that first summer, we generally had 4-5 people coming along for the 3 day program, taught once per week by Chad and Dev. But mostly they were professional divers or long-time friends of the dive center, and so the dive school covered all costs. So, although we were able to get some great work done, it was hard to see the program having much of a long-term future. But by the end of the year we had turned the 3 day training program into a two week program, and started to work with groups such as POD to market our program overseas.
2008 brought several firsts for our program, as we began to realize the potential of what trained divers could do to protect and enrich the coral reef environment. In May, we placed down our first experimental coral nurseries and artificial reefs, using techniques we could find in available literature or by looking at other projects in Thailand. That same month we attended a 3 day conference at the Phuket Marine Biological Center which introduced us to other projects being done which we could start to integrate into our conservation efforts on the island. In December, we placed down our first artificial reef structure in Aow Leuk, using a simple design created out of steel rebar, and placed it in Aow Leuk next to the coral nursery. We also spent one or two days each week doing restoration work in the area above Tanote Bay where a large reservoir was constructed and subsequent erosion had deposited a 1.5 meter thick layer of sediment over the coral reef below. Lastly, it was the year were first tried to head-start the sea turtles before releasing them, building a small enclosure in the rocks at Aow Leuk Bay.
It was around this time, in early 2008, that our efforts and activities were recognized by the local community group Save Koh Tao, and by an IUCN Coordinator who was helping that group. They asked if we could help to run a Marine Branch of Save Koh Tao, which helped to bring the projects and activities we had been developing out to all of the other dive schools.
In that first year of Save Koh Tao we were able to accomplish so much as a community, from land restoration, to building the Hin Fai site, installing mooring buoys, and much more. It meant that much of our time was taken away from the work at the NHRCP, but also that any students coming into the NRHCP would also be helping us to concurrently work on all of the Save Koh Tao Projects. This was an essential element to the group’s success, as many days we relied almost solely on our team to get many aspects of the community group projects completed.
Although most of our time that year was dedicated to running the Save Koh Tao Marine Branch (SKT MB), we managed to host 18 students and lots of professional divers into our 2 week program that year, and by 2009 the NHRCP was really starting to take off.
In 2017 we started off the year by seeing ourselves on the big screen! The BBC had finished putting together Wild Thailand (viewable for free) which we helped them film the year before and our staff was featured at the end of the first episode during "The Making Of" segment as a reward for our work. This year we'd welcome Conservation Diver Instructor Elouise Haskin, who'd joined us as one of the first CIS Australia students back in 2015 and an intern in 2016. After all her hard work and dedication it was an easy choice bringing her back as a member staff. This year saw an even greater expansion of our newly electrified site in partnership with coralAID. Four large electric waves went down along with a new sculpture, The Viperfish which was complimented with an underwater light thanks to Bob's ingenious efforts. One of the most exciting things to happen this year, was the launch of Koh Tao Whaleshark and Koh Tao Turtles, two new citizen science efforts aimed at monitoring the numbers and individuals of these two enigmatic creatures around the island. That year saw a massive influx of Whalesharks into the Gulf of Thailand the likes of which had never been seen before, helping to kickstart the project in a big way. This was also an incredible year for science here at the NHRCP, as Rahul described his first two species of Nudibranch, one of which was named after program founder Chad Scott, the publication of Pau's discovery of one of the rarest corals in the world - Nanipora, and the incredible success of Rahul's work in the Philippines with Conservation Diver, which helped to create a framework for the extension of the Marine Protected Area around Toboso, a province on the island Negros Occidental, which has since sparked further studies in the neighbouring province Escalante after talks with the government.