Our Coral Nurseries & Artificial Reefs

Coral nurseries and artificial reefs are forms of active reef restoration aimed at increasing coral health, diversity, and abundance. Corals are colonial organisms which reproduce primarily asexually to grow larger or to repair damaged tissues. Thanks to this asexual reproduction, we are able to grow new coral colonies from smaller or naturally broken pieces of coral called fragments. Many large coral colonies break due to many different threats such as large storms and waves, boat anchors and collisions, fishing nets, or irresponsible diving and snorkeling practices. These broken corals, when rolling around the sand, have almost no chance of survival, and usually die. But, by securing these fragments in areas that provide the corals with proper growing conditions they can be rehabilitated, nursed back to a mature colony size, and then transplanted back out onto the reef or artificial reef structures. Through Conservation Diver courses, this work has spread around the world to other incredible CD Centers that are carrying on this tradition where they have improved upon these techniques.

It was Charles Darwin who first realized this about corals. He noticed that corals rolling around under his ship quickly turned white and died, but by securing the loose coral to a piece of bamboo pounded in the sand they would survive. For this he is credited with being the first coral restorationist. This is the basis of our coral nursery program initiated in 2007, with our first site placed in Ao Leuk Bay. Our materials and methods have changed considerably since the time of Charles Darwin, but the ultimate goal is the same - secure dying corals before its too late.

Artificial Reef History

 Since 2007, we have constructed many coral nurseries and explored a wide variety of restoration techniques, and have learned what works well for our island, and through which methods we can receive the maximum level of benefits with the lowest amount of material or labor costs. Then, in 2010, Thailand and the rest of the South China Sea experienced one of the worst coral bleaching events in the last decade. After this event, the Thai Government, along with local Universities met to discuss ways in which we could alleviate damages and protect our reefs in subsequent events.

The Adopt-A-Reef Program

Representatives from New Heaven RCP attended several conferences and meetings in Bangkok, and pushed forward a plan to make local stakeholders more responsible for taking a proactive approach to reducing threats to reef health. Coral nurseries were identified at that meeting as one of the most accessible and efficient means of increasing reef resilience and helping corals rebound from bleaching.

Next, we worked with the Save Koh Tao Group, the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, and the Prince of Songkla University to start and Adopt-A-Reef Program here on the island. Other than New Heaven, 5 dive schools signed up to the program, and we worked together to increase the size and scope of coral nurseries around the island. In fact, in 2010 the DMCR and PSU donated 48 coral nursery tables for our island dive schools to use and look after. Currently we look after the tables in Chalok Ban Kao and Ao Leuk, which is also where we have our own coral nurseries and growing artificial reef sites.

Rapid Response to Reef Threats

One of the great strengths of our program is that we always have our team, as well as a big group of skilled volunteers to react to any situations that may occur on the reef. We are in control of our own funding, and can thus allocate it were needed without the bureaucracy and red tape that programs relying on grants or government support must go through. When there is a bleaching event, we are already on the ground before during and after to monitoring it and mitigate damages. When coral diseases start to break out, we are the first to know.
An example of our rapid response in coral restoration can be seen in a 2015 boat grounding. During the evening a fishing boat sank on our reef, and the owner decided to get another boat and try to pull it to shore, through the shallow reef. The event destroyed over 591 Square meters of beautiful coral reef, breaking it down to rubble. Within two days our team was there clearing the debris, affixing broken coral fragments to the natural reef, placing down artificial reef structures, and documenting the event for the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. You can read all about that in our report on the incident here:

As our program has continued to grow, so to has the ambitions of our artificial reef projects thanks to Conservation Diver Master Trainer Spencer Arnold. In 2015 concrete sculptures were deployed along the southern side of Chalok Bay, further extending the band of artificial reefs that our program has installed across the area. These concrete sculptures designed, created and deployed by Spencer and the platfrom Drowning Sculptures he created, which included "The Colony," "Despair" and our "Taxonomic Museum of Coral Genera". That year was a fantastic year for the exposure of our programs artificial reefs, and many of these sculptures were featured and shared across media platforms of all kinds. While artificial reefs are primarily intended to expand coral reef ecosystems or restore degraded ones, they can also generate attention to these threatened habitats and help us spread the word of the importance and efficacy of reef conservation. Around this same time more than 2000 Artificial Reef Cubes were deployed across the island by the DMCR, vastly increasing the number of artificial reef sites around our little island. With so much artificial substrate now available for restoration, as a team we decided to put a greater emphasis on the quality and aesthetic beauty of our sites instead of quantity, despite the fact that the still remains a large priority.
The year 2016 was a landmark year for the expansion and development of our Artificial Reef Program. First we deployed an underwater art installation known as Ocean Utopia, which was designed and built by internationally renowned sculptor, Val Goutard.
Second, we welcomed back Robert Svenster, a.k.a. Bob, but this time to apply his knowledge and expertise towards the creation of a new electrified artificial reef on Koh Tao. In partnership with him, we returned to one of our first and oldest artificial reef sites in Aow Leuk to deploy the latest and greatest artificial reef our island has ever seen. Located approximately 200 meters away from the original Aow Leuk site, the deployment of coralAID's first proper artificial reef began, and in the two years since it's deployment the effects of electrified artificial reefs are already showing. The site now includes an artificial atoll, the "Transformative Trash Seahorse," several Electric Waves and the "Viperfish"

A concrete artificial reef showing 2 years worth of growth from coral that were transplanted at 5cm in length. 

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    New Heaven Dive School office 9am-7pm: +66 (0) 77 457 045

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