Reef Conservation and Research

I created this blog to keep everyone updated on my following few months in the Gulf of Thailand. I will be conducting research with a team of scientists on the island of Koh Tao, while staying with New Heaven Divers on the southern coastline in Chalok Ban Kao Bay.

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South East Asia is one of the world’s most interesting locations for tropical marine research, especially with respect to ecology.

The coral triangle, formed by the landmasses of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, is recognized as the global center for marine biodiversity. Its also possible that what we called coral today, has originated here. Unfortunately, south east Asia is also a particularly stressful environment. Rapid coastal development, unsustainable industrial practices, and a rapid response to atmospheric changes (climate change) make understanding, and ultimately conserving, this area key for billions of people.

The Gulf of Thailand was formed when the glaciers retreated from the last ice age and seawater flooded the former Chao Phraya river valley. Because of this, the Gulf is very shallow (on average only 45 meters deep) and strong inflow from rivers draining the mainland makes it low in salinity and rich in nutrients and sediments.

This makes water exchange with the South China Sea very slow, and we are presented with a unique and nearly self-contained ecosystem, in which we not only find impressive animals like juvenile whale sharks, sea horses, bull sharks and mobula rays, but also a highly resilient community of corals and other reef associated organisms.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness of the Gulf comes at a cost.

Because it is shallow, temperature exchange with the atmosphere is quick and strong, leading to episodes of mass coral bleaching, whenever the earth is experiencing a period of warmth.  Right now we are observing an episode of elevated sea temperatures, which the overwhelming majority of scientists believe to be man-made. The strong input of fresh water from the mainland makes it very susceptible to pollution from fertilizers and industrial waste, and the fishing pressure is very high.

The coral reefs of the Gulf of Thailand today are in a sad state. The sea is polluted with too many nutrients, over-fished and over-used, and we only have an average of 20% of its original beauty left.

Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done.

Our studies will include:

  • Effect of tourism on Coral Reef proliferation
  • Impact of development on Biodiversity
  • Effect of fisheries on reef fish communities
  • Top-down vs. bottom-up control of Reefs
  • Efficiency of Artificial Reefs as fish aggregators
  • Efficiency of Artificial Reefs as Coral substrate
  • Nutrient dynamics of Island vs. Mainland

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