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Gelatinous Salps and Hungry Corals

Heteropsammia are a unique group of stony corals which do not attach to the substrate. These free living corals have a flat base, and live in calm sandy areas, usually in the depths outside of the coral reefs. With many of the species of Heteropsammia, the larvae settle down onto the shell of very small snails, which are then engulfed as the coral grows. They also have an obligate commensal relationship with a small worm, known as a sipunculid, which protrudes from a small hole in the bottom of the coral and helps the coral right itself, move around, and prevents it from being buried in the sand. Because this worm can also move the coral around, the corals are known in the aquarium trade as “Walking Dendros.”

Almost the entire upper portion of the 2.5 cm wide coral is a mouth, meaning that it is able to consume much larger prey than most other hard coral species. Being a coral which lives deep, this is an advantage as there is less light available at depth to power photosynthesis for the coral’s symbiotic algae. These corals thus rely more on predation than the functionally autotrophic corals of the shallow oceans. But what exactly do they eat is a question that is still being answered. Recently, on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, the corals have been observed eating salps, an observation that was recently published in the Journal of Marine Biodiversity.

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A New Future in Electric Coral Reefs

Coral reefs around the world are being lost at an alarming rate due to the localized effects of human activities, natural causes, and the global effects of climate change. One of the more unique methods used to restore and preserve corals in the face of oceans that are becoming warmer and more acidic is the use of electric artificial reefs, or Biorocks™. Biorocks™, or mineral accretion devices, were invented by Dr. Wolf Hilbertz, and use a process of sea electrolysis to improve the growing conditions for hard corals and other marine life. On these electrified structures, corals and other animals grow faster, and can better survive problems such as temperature changes, disease, predation, or ocean acidification. Corals growing on the devices not only are healthier than their natural counterparts, but also have a higher reproductive output – meaning more larvae to seed and restore damaged coral reefs nearby.
 
Although the technique was patented in 1996, the vital technology is not yet widely used around the world. Although the technology is not very complicated, it is more expensive than many other artificial reefs and requires regular maintenance, but that is not the main reason why you may have never seen or even heard of them. One of the major problems with the technology is that up until recently is has remained patented, trademarked, and proprietary information of the Biorock Company. Because of these ownership and patent restrictions, the technology has not been freely available to the reef managers and local communities who could have benefited most from its use. 19 years has essentially been lost, over which time tools that could have helped save reef areas and preserved coral diversity in places around the globe has been forestalled.

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SCESAP Biodiversity Symposium 2015

From July 3rd – 7th, 2015, the Society for Coastal Ecosystem Studies – Asia Pacific (SCESAP) held its biannual symposium in Bangkok. The Symposium theme was “Biodiversity in Asian Coastal Waters: Looking towards the future”, and members of our NRHCP were privileged to attend and speak.

According to their website, “SCESAP, has been established to advance research and education in the science and management of coastal ecosystems and adjacent environments in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide, through the promotion of effective cooperation and communication among interested individuals and organizations in the Asia (Indo-Malay) Pacific and elsewhere.”

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Volunteer placements, internships abroad, and international study programs in foreign countries are one of the most rewarding and life changing experiences a young traveler can involve in. In 9 years of running volunteer and conservation programs for foreign students here on Koh Tao, we have always strived to run a program which offers the best training and the best value possible. Mixed, of course, with a lot of fun and challenging activities. Almost all of our students leave here happy, informed, and wanting to do more. Unfortunately, from them I have heard many terrible stories of going to other volunteer projects and finding out they were not what was advertised. In fact, each year we take on 2-3 last minute students who came to Asia to do a project at another location, and got there to find there was nothing for them to do.   When you are at home booking these types of volunteer placements you probably have a good idea of what you want to do, but maybe don’t know what to expect. There are currently so many projects available, with new ones springing up and old ones closing down all the time. Many programs out there are better at marketing than actually doing, and some websites or information may be outdated or inaccurate. That is why we have put together this list of things to consider before choosing a volunteer placement. By following this list of recommendations, you can ensure that you will find the placement that will provide you the best possible trip and learning experience.

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Evolution of Artifical Reefs: Chalok

Whether for attracting fish, growing coral, restoring reefs, or just art and sculptures; the value of artificial reefs is becoming more apparent to many reef mangers around the globe. For almost 6 years now we have been building, deploying, and maintaining artificial reefs in Chalok Ban Kao, Koh Tao. in a reef which was previously destroyed by anchors and coral bleaching. They haven’t all been successful, but for the most part they have all fulfilled their intended purpose, and can be considered a success. But don’t just believe us, check out the pictures below to see for yourself how these artificial structure can evolve in to diverse and productive ecosystems.

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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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