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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This is where baby starfish come from. . .

One of the most miraculous and important events in any organism’s life is reproduction. Every species does it differently, each evolving their own strategies to fit the physical and biological conditions specific to them. Normally, we are overjoyed to observe this rare event on the coral reef, such as with our yearly coral spawning and larvae culturing project. Or we spend large amounts of time ensuring the act was successful by caring for juvenile sea turtles and giant clams. However there are a few organisms on the reef which we would rather not see reproducing (other than the divers).

On September 12th, 2014 we observed the mass spawning event of several Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTs). These starfish are a major problem around our island, and have reached outbreak levels in some sites over the last 5 years. They are a corallivore, which can consume about 148-238 cm2 of our living coral from the reef each day. In many parts of the world, such as the Great Barrier Reef, they have been conclusively found to be a leading threat to reef health, and they have been trying to control them since the 1970’s. We also remove many of the starfish here around our island as often as we can, collecting 138 individuals from 9 sites in 2014.

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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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New Heaven Dive’s 20th Anniversary

2015 is a big year for New Heaven Dive School, as it marks the 20th year of providing great diving and wonderful memories here on Koh Tao. And to mark the occasion we would like to see many of our old family members, friends, staff, and customers come back and help us celebrate. So we are announcing it early, in hopes that people will have time to plan their trips. We will hold several parties and events throughout the year, which you can see on the schedule at the bottom of this article. But first, let’s have a look back at some of the most memorable events and people that have enriched our lives and ingrained themselves in our hearts to make New Heaven into what it is today.

New Heaven Dive was originally started in June 1995 by Kampanat NaSongkhla, or P’Kong, when he started diving from the beach in Chalok Bay with just 2 sets of dive equipment, 4 tanks, and a small longtail boat. With these humble beginnings, P’Kong looked to introduce visitors to the beauty of Koh Tao’s underwater world, and treated every customer as a dear friend, which they inevitably all became.

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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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Contribute to Leopard Shark Research

Leopard sharks (also called Zebra Sharks) are a unique species of sharks with beautiful stripped (juveniles) or spotted (adults) patterns on their skin, and a body which can reach about 2.5 meters in length. They tend to be timid and slow moving, are nocturnal hunters, and spend most of the day sleeping. This means that they are often spotted by divers, and are safe to approach and experience up close. These traits make the leopard shark a favorite sighting by divers and snorkelers, and also allows for unique ‘citizen science’ based opportunities for divers to contribute to their research.

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Mooring Lines – “the property of all becomes the responsibility of none”

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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Making the most of your diving holidays

Currently, Koh Tao is ranked as the number one island travel destination by Tripadvisor.com, based on visitor reviews. So you can almost guarantee that your diving holiday to the island will be a great one. With over 30 dive sties, and almost year-round diving availability it doesn’t really matter where you dive, or what time of year you come. But here are some tips that can make your trip to Koh Tao even more enjoyable and hassle free...

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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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Caught Between a Net and a Hard Place

On the 21st of February, 2014, the NHRCP team surveyed an area on the western side of the island for a suitable site to install a new mooring line, but ended up involved in a large underwater clean-up. A short while into the dive, we came to a ring of net, at least 50 meters in length and over 2 meters high in places, that had drifted in from deeper water and had finally come to a stop after being caught on pockets of branching coral at the edge of the reef. Now, I must mention that, nets drifting in and being caught on pinnacles and reefs is not a novel event but it is something that demands attention in the rare situation that it does happen.

Often older nets that have settled and become a part of the substrate are left alone, especially those made of natural fibers as opposed to synthetic polymers. These often become good habitat for a range of species and removal would cause more harm than good. However this was a new, gill net, which has been designed to ensnare fish completely especially around their gills. To get to the position it was now in, this net must have spent much of its time since being lost/discarded, till being caught, as a ghost net. This is a wall of net that drifts in the water column ensnaring anything that gets caught in it.

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Phone: +66 (0)77 457045 or + 66 (0)91 8324800
48 Moo 3 Chalok Baan Kao
Koh Tao, Surat Thani
84360 Thailand

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