Our Story


How It All Began

The New Heaven Reef Conservation Program was founded by New Heaven owner Devrim Zahir and Chad Scott who had previously worked with CPAD as marine conservationists. The intent of the marine conservation program was to train the professional divers and interested customers in coral reef ecology, and introduce them to the practical applications of marine conservation biology.

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 conervation program, but it was difficult at 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.
          Kaen and Senay release a sea turtle at the first Save Koh Tao Festivals (circa 2000)

NHRCP Through the Years
1995-2005

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. Thier 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.

2006

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, instructor 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.

Chad, then an intern with CPAD, helps to tag corals on the Taa CHaa Biorock for a research study

Chad and Dev Affix tags to the biorock for long-term monitoring as part of a CPAD research project

Bert, from CPAD, teaches marine ecology to a group of studnets from Mahidol University

Muay from CPAD takes the local kids our for a snorkel and reef survey

Nit, the New Heaven receptionist, helps to look after this year's batch of sea turtles to be released

The kids swimming and diving program was a huge hit


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.

The first two students to complete the RCP 3 day course, Frank and Vera

New Heaven DMs and DMTs head out for an underwater clean-up as part of their 3 day course

Dev teaches the instructors at New Heaven about coral ecology

New Heaven instructors try their first EMP survey

Sea Turtles from the Thai Navy are temporarily kept at New Heaven until they can be released

Turtles from the Thai Navy get released into the ocean


2008

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.

Transplanting corals to the Taa Chaa Biorock Structure

Our first floating nursery design at Ao Leuk Bay

Our first platform nursery worked much better than our original floating nursery

Trials on PVC nurseries, which we later stopped using

Our first Sea Turtle Nursery/Head-starting program in the rocky shore of Ao Leuk Bay

Taking data on the coral fragments we rescued


2009

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.

Installing the first 'zoning line' in Ao Leuk bay to protect the shallow reef

Amy takes data on the corals in our floating nursery

The first nursery that we ever placed in Chalok goes down

Celebrating the deployment of Koh Tao's first Giant clam nursery, 10 cages in Ao Leuk Bay with a hundred clams in each

Finishing the construction of our tree at Buoyancy World

Our team works hard to install vetiver grass to control erosion above Tanote Bay


2010

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.

Our first spawning team, and it was a succesful night!

Our first, very basic, coral culturing tanks and lab

Coral bleaching affected every reef around the island, wiping out up to 60% of the corals in some areas

Star intern, Kelly Fisher spent the whole year with us, from finsihing our tree at Buoyancy world, to the first spawning event, to putting down Suan Olan

Erosion control work took off in Tanote with donations from the Suratthani governmment and more help from Save Koh Tao

Installing new coral nurseries in Chalok with the team from Songkla


2011

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.

The nurseries from 2010 look great, and we are always taking off large corals and adding new small ones

The team celebrates after a great underwater clean-up for the Monthly SKT clean-up day

Corals in our bottle nurseries start to show the potential of this technique

For the first several years of our program Caroline was always there to help, and eventually became a part time NHRCP intructor

A big group from Mohidol Univerisity joins our program

We also added 4 more smaller trees around our structure at Buoyancy World


2012

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.

Our new sea turtle tanks are complete, and also work for coral spawnign and other projects

Geri and Margaux help transplant out giant clams from the nursery to the reef

Pim measures the displacement of the giant clams in the nursery

Attaching corals at Hin Fai, 4 years since it was deployed by Save Koh Tao

Chad and Oi build a coral nursery for the science fair project

The school kids try out different epoxies and adhesives for their science fair project


2013

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.

Always great teams of people here at the NHRCP

Sunghee and Adam help to attach corals to over 80 metal sprials placed at Suan Olan

Nora swims by one of the developing artificial reefs in Chalok

Rahul tends to some of the bottle nurseries in Ao Leuk

Some of the kids from the swimming & diving program take a moment away from thier learning to pose for the camera

Pau shows employees from Chevron how we attach mooring lines to the bases they donated


2014

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.

One of the first 'Modular Mooring Line Bases' goes down near Freedom Beach

Our biggest coral spawning team to date gets ready for the night's adventure

Never a dull moment at the NHRCP

Ploy helps collect data for one of our intern's school projects

A beautiful Green Sea Turtle from our nurseries

White corals everywhere at the peak of bleaching


2015

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.

Many hands make light work with this great group from Australia

Maurizio creates anchor for corals transplantation at the DMCR blocks

Ploy smiles as Spencer checks out his newly deployed artifical reef, the Colony

Bob of CoralAid gives the ok for his first solar powered mineral accretion device

Shark education day with the local PlaySkool

NHRCP Staff team 2015: Pau, Chad, Rahul, Ploy, Spencer, and Dev


2016

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 disease, 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.

We Deployed Valeria Goutard's "Ocean Utopia" off of Tao Tong in March

The Trash Seahorse which won the SKT Trash Sculpture Competition and now sits at our electrified Aow Leuk Site.

George Bevan, one of our first Conservation Diver Instructors training with us before he would go on to start up his own conservation program in Nicaragua.

After 6 years of inactivity Bob and coralAID finally helped us bring power back to the electrified Hin Fai Site.

Chloe surveys the last year of what was described as a Super El Nino event, which brought severe bleaching to our island once more.

We repaired and installed more than 70 Mooring Lines around Koh Tao in 2016


2017

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.

Armina occulta and Armina scotti, two newly described species of Nudibranch thanks to Rahul

Kirsty beginning her work through Koh Tao Whalesharks

This year also saw the greatest number of Blue Ringed Octopus ever observed on Koh Tao thanks to our Muck Dives

The focus of the BBC's segment here on Koh Tao, the infamous Titan Triggerfish

The electrified Viperfish complete with its glowing lure

After years of diving with us, Elle leads her first dives with the program as a Conservation Diver Instructor


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  • Address
    48 Moo 3 Chalok Baan Kao
    Koh Tao, Surat Thani
    84360, Thailand
Copyright 2016
New Heaven Reef Conservation Program