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 Ao Leuk, using a simple design created out of steel rebar, and placed it in Ao 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 Ao 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 2009, we added more topics to our program, adding enough new projects and activities to lengthen the program to 4 weeks. We also realized that some of our best students never wanted to leave, and so we started up the internship program
. We had several amazing interns during that year, including Katie (US) and Amy (UK), who both worked hard to help develop the program here further and do the work needed while we focused on the training of the new students.
At the same time, things were picking up quickly with SKT MB, and in that year we installed the first yellow zoning lines, first giant clam nursery
, built Buoyancy World, hosted several community meetings alongside the regional government and NGO’s to start making a management plan for the island, and restored much of the land above Tanote bay.
In 2009, we were simultaneously running a land conservation program to complement the work being done by our marine team. This team would join on many of the marine conservation lectures and land-based projects, then when we went out diving they would do tree and grass plantings, beach clean-ups, Photodocumentation, visitor surveys, and much more. Our program also started to get more attention oversees and here in Thailand, and we began working with several researchers from various Universities to increase the scale and scope of our research projects.
2010 started off great, the land conservation program is in full swing, with a new leader, Danielle Koffler, and the land restoration above Tanote bay really took off. By April we were involved in our first year of the coral spawning project
, under the guidance of Dr. James True from the Prince of Songkla University. That year the corals were very healthy, and it was one of the largest (in terms of number of colonies and egg output) spawning events we have ever seen. We were able to collect the eggs and sperm, and fertilize them in our very simple tank set-up on land. However, by late April the sea around the island had really warmed up, and by May it was obvious that Koh Tao would also be hit hard by the second global coral bleaching event on record. Corals all around the island turned white, and many of the huge stands of branching and tabulate Acropora corals were dead by early July. At the Asia Pacific Reef Conference in Phuket, we joined with other researchers from around the globe to discuss and record this event. Throughout the summer we had some amazing interns like Kelly, Christoph, Jillian, Matt, Robbie, and Yaya who helped us to improve the EMP program
, and take tons of surveys to monitor the bleaching situation.
One positive outcome of the bleaching was that is did act as a catalyst to get people paying attention to our ocean, and initiate some good projects. We were able to work with the Prince of Songkla, NOAA, and CISIRO on a bleaching perception survey, available here for download. And by September were leading an adopt-a-reef program through the Save Koh Tao Group which including constructing 8 large sets of coral nurseries around the island with materials donated by Ajarn Sakanan Platong of the Prince of Songkhla University. Each of the sets of tables was to be taken care of by a different dive school, with the NHRCP taking responsibility for the ones in Ao Luek and Chalok. Alongside the DMCR, we also constructed the Suan Olan alternative dive site, which was a strenuous week for our divers due to the hard work and bad weather. Other community accomplishments this year were the placing down of the Tanote Reef Balls with the DMCR, and the construction of over a hundred check dams above Tanote Bay.
At the start of the 2011 season the corals that had bleached had either recovered their zooxanthallae and color, or had died. We spent the first part of the year documenting the high levels of mortality, and making plans about how to restore the reefs and help get them started down the road to recovery. The coral spawning program was much less exciting, with very few colonies spawning, and having a low egg output. However, due to the bleaching event, we were able to identify some ‘super’ corals
, or those that possibly have a higher genetic fitness than the corals around them which makes them better able to withstand a bleaching event. These corals would become the focus of our spawning program for the next 5 years, and also of Chad’s Master’s Degree Thesis project. Throughout the year, we focused on our coral nurseries and artificial reefs, and it was in this year that we really started to get a lot of structures down in Ao Leuk and Chalok Ban Kao. With Save Koh Tao and other dive schools on the island, we were also able to put down the MINI artificial Reef in Hin Ngam. We worked alongside the DMCR and Ajarn Sakanan to install tons of new mooring lines around the island, and we watched as the Thai Navy sunk the HTMS Sattakut.
2012 was a very fun year for the program. The bleaching event of 2010 was out of our minds, the corals were looking better, we had a great spawning season, and we were blessed with so many wonderful and fun interns in the program, including Margaux, Gerianne, Rahul, Ben, Pim, and so many more. We had our sea turtle tanks
on land all finished and the first batch of turtles surviving well in them. We ramped up our bottle nursery production, with Rahul acting as a human cement mixing machine, and placed over 100 of them down at Suan Olan to tie the site together and create navigation aids. We started diving off KK1 more often instead of the long-tail, as the program was getting bigger and more popular. Towards the end of the season, we had tons of fun doing 2 different month-long science projects with the local school children. Both groups ended up going to regional science final in Suratthani, the older kids taking second place and the younger group taking third. With Save Koh Tao, the new office was constructed, and to celebrate we helped to host the 2nd
annual KT film Festival there, and then the big festival a few days later. One of the biggest successes was the passing of the Koh Tao Strategic Marine Management Plan, which was the culmination of years of work with the community, Save Koh Tao, Price of Songkla University, local government, and the DMCR.
The momentum and fun of 2012 carried right over into 2013, with our first interns, Pau and Ben (who was returning again from 2008). We had new staff, Ploy Macintosh and Sunghee Kim joining us, as well as Chris Dalley as our photographer since Shin went off to pursue his Master’s Degree. We had a constant supply of wonderful interns such as Marcus, Emily, Lindsay, Margaux (again), Fanny, Dave, Nora, Meike, Tawin, and so many more. Most days we were too many people for the longtail, and some days even KKI. In terms of projects, we had a few research studies that turned into great papers from our students, added tons of new structures to Ao Leuk and Chalok, and started our seahorse surveys
in partnership with iSeahorse.org. Alongside the government and community, we also deployed the first concrete reef cubes, 60 massive concrete mooring lines bases, put down 80 metal spirals to connect Suan Olan with the MINI site, and added a bunch of new giant clam cages in Ao Leuk.
2014 was off to another great start, with an amazing year for spawning, a great team, plenty of interesting research going on by our interns, and lots of concrete blocks to move around and transplant corals onto. The program had grown a lot over the last year, and we had too many amazing interns to list here. Sadly Sunghee had to leave the team, but Pau had joined our staff full time in 2013, Rahul was back, and Spencer was here as an intern, and by the end of the year would join the staff team full time. But by May things had warmed up again, and the corals were bleaching. Our focus shifted to monitoring and recording the bleaching situation for most of the summer, which was another difficult time for those of us in the program. This time, the event seems to bring less concern by the local community than in 2010, and this was also the year Chad stopped running the Save Koh Tao Marine Branch. We spent a lot of the late season removing Drupella Snails
and Crown of Thorns Starfish, and hosted some great school groups from Thailand and abroad. We also worked with Ajarn Sakanan to design and construct modular mooring line bases around the island, a project which has proven to be effective and fun, but lots of work.
In 2015 we started off the year with a huge team of students from Australia, and put them to work building tons of great new artificial reef structures as well as moving corals to the over 700 concrete cubes that have been put down around the island from the DMCR. Spencer got right to work on his artificial reef site, Despair
, completing the colony and several other structures
throughout the year. Rahul published his study on nudibranch diversity in the Gulf of Thailand
, adding 25 new species to the records for the country. Kirsty Magson joined us as an intern, and later the same year we asked he join our staff team. Bob, now of Coral Aid, returned to help us get Hin Fai up and running again, and also installed his first pilot project in Taa Chaa, using a floating solar panel to power the electric reef. And Kirsty, then an intern, helped make sure the turtles in the nursery were always well looked after. An intern, Lena did a project on tracking sea turtles using photographs, which led to the creation of the Koh Tao Turtles Project
By 2016 we had increased our staff team to 5, with the addition of Kait Harris. The year started off great again, with two big groups of wonderful students from Australia back to back, a group of Veterinary students from the US, and another amazing intern team. In March we led the Ocean Utopia project
, to help put down sculptures created by internationally renown artist, Val Goutard. We took in an injured sea turtle that was found tangled in a net by an instructor from another dive school, and after sending it to Chumphon for amputation of one flipper, later released it back into the ocean. During the summer, corals bleached again, but luckily, they were quick to recover and mortality rates were low. It did however increase the prevalence of coral diseas
e, something which we are now spending more time recording and investigating ways to mitigate or slow the spreading. By the end of the summer we had electrified the Ao Leuk CoralAid site, using land based power from Ban Talay resort. The site started as a large donut, and then spencer added his Transformative Trash Seahorse
to the center. Over time other structures would be added, as Bob has big plans for his power units.
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 Kirsty's 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.