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After months of work and secrecy, we here at the NHRCP are finally ready to introduce our latest artificial reef sculpture “The Colony”. After an exhilarating deployment last Friday (May 8), it found it’s resting place in Chalok Baan Kao near King Kong 3’s mooring line and the location where a fishing boat sank earlier in the year.  It was no easy feat, and a great deal of thanks and credit are due to the NHRCP staff, interns and students that participated in the building and sinking of this behemoth. You made this all possible.

The sculpture is designed to resemble a young coral colony budding off of the sea floor. In place of the coral’s polyps, 14 faces were casted and receded into the structure. Each face is sheltered within a sculpted corallite, casting beams of light over them. The sculpture is haunting at first glance, but on closer inspection the serene resting faces lend it a calming beauty. For me, diving has always been a surreal experience, and this sculpture was made with the intention of playing off of these feelings by enhancing them.

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What animals can corals eat?

Corals are quite an amazing animal. For one thing, they farm micro-algae inside their bodies, from which they derive about 75-95% of their total energy supply. Through this symbiosis between the coral animal and the unicellular algae the corals can grow in waters that are nutrient deficient, and indeed it is in these super clean waters that corals are most productive – building reefs that are visible from space. But even though the corals get most of their energy from the algae they still need to feed to get the ‘fertilizer’ to give their algal crop. This feeding is done through the use of their tentacles, which wave around in the water and capture any food source that may happen by. But what is this food source?

Look it up in any book and you will see that corals eat zooplankton. So what is zooplankton? Technically, it is any animal (algae and cyanobacteria would by phytoplankton) that is in the water and cannot swim against currents. That is pretty broad, actually that definition can include small krill or brine shrimp as well as baby sea turtles, massive jellyfish, or a 10 meter long chains of sea salps. So more specifically we want to know what types of zooplankton corals eat, if there are differences in their diets between coral species, and what are some of the larger things they can eat?

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One of the leading threats to our planets coral reefs is the release of sediment and nutrients from land into coastal areas, known as eutrophication. These nutrients come from both local and distant sources on land, generally from development, deforestation, agriculture, and pollution/waste water discharge. Slow growing corals are unable to utilize these increased nutrient levels, but fast growing macro-algae can. When coastal areas are enriched with nutrients, coral reefs can quickly be lost, and replaced with much less productive and diverse macro-algae ecosystems.

Although this effect is directly observable and has been scientifically recorded again and again, combating the issue is difficult. Nutrient levels and ocean chemistry fluctuate greatly on a global scale, and agricultural and development projects far from the sea can still wreak havoc through transport by rivers. The scope and scale of the problem make identification of nutrient or pollution sources difficult.

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Diving videography by Andreas

New Heaven dive school is now pleased to offer our customers professional videos of their time here, by Aquatic Images. For those who choose this service, Andreas, a longtime friend and videographer on Koh Tao, will accompany you on your dives and film your holiday and the amazing marine life you see underwater. Then, before you leave, you will get a DVD of the video, along with some of his favorite short videos from the island.

No matter if you are taking the Open water and diving for the first time, or participating in one of our advanced marine conservation courses, Andreas will make a great video of your experience. There is nothing better to share with friends and family, and remember your holiday for years to come.

If you would like to receive this service, then please just let us know when you are signing up. If you want to check out some of the great videos made by Aquatic Images and Andreas then check out the promotional video he made for us below, or on his  YouTube channel 

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2015, A Bad Year for Coral Reefs?

In 1998, 16% of the hard corals in the world died. That’s right, almost a fifth of all the coral in the world knocked out in a single year, and most people have never even heard about it. The cause of this widespread death of corals was that 1998 was the hottest year on record for oceans (both for the records kept since 1860, and the records going back 800,000 years through ice core data). In 1998, sea surface temperatures rose by 1-3 Deg. Celsius, and the first recorded global bleaching event occurred.

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Why make artificial dive sites?

When most people think of artificial reefs, they think of structures that will add habitat to attract corals, fish, and other reef animals. But what about creating artificial reefs to attract people? SCUBA diving has quickly become one of the most important marine based tourism industries in the world, with an estimated 30 million divers having been certified by 2012, and about 1 million people currently learning to dive each year (Lew 2013). The attraction of diving in beautiful and diverse coral reefs is a major economic contributor to the 23 countries around the world that receive more than 15% of their GDP from reef-tourism (Wongthong and Harvey 2014).

Koh Tao is a great example of this effect, as it is now listed as 2nd in the world for the number of SCUBA certifications each year. In 2002 (the most recent published data), the island contributed about 500 million baht to the Thai economy through tourism, with a majority of the tourists coming for diving. This boom has been great for the economy here and in other locations around the globe, but what are the costs?

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The Drupella Dredger

Drupella snail management on our island is set to make a major leap forward this year. On Wednesday, the 11th of February we will be launching a Crowdfunder page in order to raise the money we need to construct a ‘Drupella dredger’, a large underwater vacuum to suck the little predatory snails right up off the corals. Based on our project plans, we expect the device to cost about 1,800 GBP to construct, but once it is built it can easily be transported to any local reef needing it, and should last for years.

At the moment, we need your help to spread the word and assist us in raising the money to build it. You can pledge any amount, from 2 GBP to 200 GBP, which will greatly help us on our way to achieving our goal. You can also help by spreading the word, and sharing the news about this vital project.

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Our Newest Marine Conservation Instructor

Meet New Heaven’s newest staff member, Spencer Arnold, who will be joining on as a marine conservation program instructor for the NHRCP. Spencer first came to the program in January of 2014, as part of the internship program. He proved to be a quick and enthusiastic learner, and an integral and important member of our team.

After finishing his internship placement with the NHRCP, Spencer completed the Divemaster program at New Heaven, and then worked with us until the end of the summer. After leaving he applied for a paid position at a marine conservation center in the Caribbean, but in the end decided that New Heaven was the place he would most like to be. With very little arm twisting he managed to talk us into having him back, and we are thrilled to once again have him on our team.

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One of the most readily observable, and avoidable, damages to coral reefs is due to the dropping of anchors to park boats. Dropping an anchor instead of using mooring lines can destroy hundreds of years of coral growth in only a few moments, and leave a pile of unconsolidated rubble in its wake which can take decades or centuries to recover. Mooring lines are permanent lines attached to a solid base that boats can pick-up and attach to, rather than dropping anchors on or near the reef.

On Koh Tao, we have mooring lines at every dive site around the island, which not only allow boats to park but also improves the safety of divers ascending and descending.  In all, there are over 130 mooring lines around the island as of late 2014. But this was not always the case. In 1998, only 3 of the island’s then 19 dive sites had mooring lines, and boats dropping anchors on the reef was identified by survey respondents as the most “prominent and visible impact” to Koh Tao’s reefs (Flumerfelt, 1999). Furthermore, many instructors on the island at the time told numerous stories of being almost hit by falling anchors while teaching courses to new students. The major problem, they said, with installing mooring lines was the cost, the lack of involvement by the island’s then 18 dive schools, and a lack of understanding about the maintenance involved.

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Thailand eShark Project 2015

In 2014, Shark Guardian managed to collect over 4,600 entries into the eShark Database, including sightings of 1,480 sharks from 10 different species. The sightings are submitted by concerned divers around the country, and around the world, in order to evaluate and track population levels for conservation efforts. The data collected is shared with national policy makers such as the Thai Department of Fisheries, as well as international organizations such as the IUCN.
This year, the group is ramping up the project yet again looking to get even more reports on sharks, turtles, marine mammals, and other important marine organisms or problems. From November 2014 – April 2015 they will try to get as many submissions as possible, and need your help to do so.
All divers can contribute to this database, even if you have never seen a shark. In fact, they need to know about the dives you have done and not seen sharks as much as they need the sightings information. Submitting data is easy, and takes only a few minutes, you can submit a couple of dives, or your whole log-book.

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