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Will Sea Turtles Survive the Anthropocene?

The modern day sea turtle has existed for around 80 million years, and they can be found in all ocean waters except the polar regions. There are now only 7 living species left in the world, so it is important to protect those that remain.

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Meanwhile in the Maldives…

Recently, NHRCP instructors Kait Harris and Pau Urgell traveled to the Maldives to work alongside the Island Livelihood Institute, educating local island communities on coral reef ecology and artificial reefs as a tool for restoration. During our stay, we learned a great deal about the restoration efforts happening on many of the islands, and were able to pass on some of our knowledge too. 

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Thank you for your reviews!

We did it again! Thanks to our customers we managed to receive the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for another year in a row.  We always strive to provide the best possible holiday experience for our guests, and this recognition helps us to know we are accomplishing that.

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Once a year, during a period of about 15 minutes, many hard coral colonies of the same species will spawn synchronously in the same area. Corals cannot move, that’s why reproductive success depends on the accuracy in spawning time of all the colonies.

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Recently, the mass coral bleaching event occurring on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has had extensive media coverage, bringing to light the severe consequences of the changing climate. But what is coral bleaching? And why is this year set to be particularly bad?

Although the climate is slowly warming globally according to vast scientific consensus, there are patterns of weather which influence particular areas of the planet, causing more severe weather events at certain periods of time. El Niño is a complex interaction between ocean and atmospheric temperatures which result in certain patterns of climate which prevail for 9-12 months at a time, occurring every 2-7 years.

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A Not So Selfish Gene

One of the philosophies that is central to our work here at the NHRCP, is the preservation of the genetic diversity of our coral reefs.  Koh Tao’s reefs are beautiful and diverse ecosystems. containing a wide variety of different coral species and growth forms. The emphasis that we place on the understanding of coral taxonomy helps our team of conservationists gain an appreciation for the genera of coral that are less abundant on our reefs, encouraging the protection of these marginalized species.

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Within the realms of biology lies an underlying skeleton that allows the very heart of the science to thrive, this being the concept of classification. The organisation and categorisation of different organisms can be based on type, size, and any number of variables and characteristics, each with its own crucial importance to research to the most detailed level, and to the largest biological questions of all. This skeleton is comprised of many parts, and at its very backbone, lies the concept of taxonomy, used as the most common form of classification. Taxonomy is the classification system by which organisms are divided into phyla, families, species, etc, and rely strongly on the variation in the internal anatomy of organisms and in modern analysis, differences in the genetic makeup between organisms, i.e, DNA. You can learn more about a taxonomic approach to classification in our introduction to key invertebrate species of Koh Tao and the Gulf, in our learning resources section here.

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Giant clams, a sheltered reputation

Giant clams, Tridacna Sp., are not widely known by the every-day tourists. Three different species occur at Koh Tao; Tridacna maxima, Tridacna squamosa and Tridacna crocea. Although giant clams are not widely known, they can easily compete with the rest of the coral reef in a beauty competition due to their stunning camouflaging coloration. Moreover giant clams live up to their name and can reach impressive sizes, the largest species in this genus reaching up to 1.4 meters! At Koh Tao however the largest individuals grow up to a more conventional 40 cm.

Giant Clams get hold of food in two different ways. The first source of food for giant clams is zooplankton, which are obtained through filter-feeding, this is the main food source for giant clams in their early stages of life. Giant clams also have a symbiotic relationship with a unicellular algae (called zooxanthallae), which live in the tissues of the clams. These algae share some of the sugars and carbohydrates they produce, through photosynthesis, with the clam. Not only does the zooxanthallae provide about 90% of the clams daily energy budget, they are also responsible for the clams unique and ornate coloration.

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Throughout the past several years, the program has been conducting ever increasing amounts of research on the invertebrate organisms of the island. In 2012, our research expanded into the complex and charismatic world of the nudibranchs, and shortly after, the remaining sea slugs. In December 2015, the program published the findings of the research in the journal Marine Biodiversity.

Sea slugs are an incredibly diverse and fascinating type of organism that are found in marine environments worldwide. You can read more about sea slugs and the roles they play in our learning resources segment here. At the program, sea slugs play important roles in two of our key activities, beyond the incidental observations doing restoration work. The first of these is the inclusion of nudibranchs (and by extension the rest of the sea slugs) in our Ecological Monitoring Program (EMP) surveys which you can read about here. The second is the significance of sea slugs in our muck exploration efforts which have led to a number of interesting findings. In 2012 the research started out mapping the inventory of all known species of sea slugs found on Koh Tao, almost 3 years later the findings of the research came to a number of interesting and regionally significant conclusions.

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The Crown of Thorns Starfish, Acanthaster Sp., is a large sea star whose diet consists almost entirely of hard corals. This sea star has been known to cause devastating losses to coral reefs in areas where their populations rise, or where corals are particularly stressed by other threats such as development, over-fishing, physical damage, or bleaching. For years, we at the NHRCP have been monitoring Acanthaster populations around our island, and performing removals in areas where populations are relatively high, or coral levels are low. In 2014 we removed 138 individuals from reefs around our island, and in 2015 we removed over 277. After so many removals we started to wonder where the new sea stars are coming from, what depths are they living at, what are the population dynamics, and what corals do they prefer to eat. All of these points where investigated in detail by one of our interns, Leon Haines.

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