Thailand Post Tsunami Coral Reef
Restoration Press Release
Racha Island, site of the project
His Excellency, Khun Suwit Khunkitti, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (left photo).
For Immediate Release Tuesday, August 02, 2005 PHUKET, THAILAND. The Reef Ball Foundation aided in the post tsunami coral reef restoration by introducing 5 artificial reefs comprised of over 250 designed coral seeded artificial reef modules, called “Reef Balls” to Butok Bay, off Racha Island in Phuket, Thailand. This coral reef restoration project has the endorsement of the Thai Government, including Prime Minister His Excellency Thaksin Shinawatra and within weeks following the disaster garnered financial support from The Racha Resort, The Racha Seamaster Divers, Project AWARE Asia, private sector donations and internal Reef Ball Foundation budgets to conduct and complete the project in less than 28 days.
The fast approaching monsoon season and the tight window of opportunity to save the damaged corals in Butok Bay was met by rapid mobilization of the Reef Ball Foundation’s CORAL Team that is an association of over 200 experts in the field willing to volunteer time after coral reef disasters for restoration efforts. The Foundation was able to mobilize 30 volunteers from 13 countries within 30 days and by working with local partner organizations the project was successfully completed on time.
The 250 plus Reef Ball modules were constructed and deployed within Butok Bay from the shores of Racha Island. These artificial reef modules were planted with over 800 rescued imperiled live coral fragments derived from 35 different hard and soft coral species.
The establishment of these five new coral reefs to serve as dive/snorkel sites and genetic coral bank to preserve the coral diversity threatened by the tsunami was an integral part of the rebuilding of the Racha Resort as well as a valuable addition to the many famous dive sites available within the Andaman coast. A major goal of the coral restoration efforts was to induce tourism to the Phuket economy that prior to the tsunami derived over 90% of income from tourism. A rapid restoration of economic activity is the best way for individuals affected by the tsunami to resume normal lives.
Prior to the tsunami, in September 2004, The Racha Resort and The Racha Seamaster Divers had invited the Reefball Foundation to introduce the artificial reef construction and coral propagation technology to Thailand, making it the 50th country with Reef Ball projects. It was this partnership and these local businessmen commitment to the environment that enabled such a rapid post-tsunami response.
Before The Racha and the Racha Seamaster Divers had the opportunity to implement this new technology, the devastating December 26th tsunami occurred. Astonished by the extent of the tsunami destruction, the Reef Ball Foundation immediately began preparing a plan of action to help expediate the recovery and reconstruction process in Butok Bay. The Reef Ball Foundation’s impact assessment team made a trip to Phuket in mid February 2005 and their findings in Butok Bay showed that the massive coral heads comprising the patch reef in the center of the bay had suffered severe negative impact from the tsunami, while the fringing reefs on the edge of the bay displayed minimal change. The team also witnessed large changes in the seabed and an un-sorting of sand bottoms which created fear of additional sedimentation stress on the coral reefs over the next year as the sands re-sort themselves. Furthermore, the large amount of debris in the water also impacted the reefs that survived the onslaught of the giant waves.
Noting the urgency to rescue the imperiled corals within the Butok Bay, the Reef Ball Foundation and its Coral Restoration Division activated its CORAL Team of worldwide experts to participate in this project. While the world’s generosity was reaching Thailand in many different forms, the Reef Ball Foundation joined the Thai people in the clean-up and reconstruction of the coral reefs in Butok Bay with the intent of ultimately assisting in the recovery of sea life in the bay and tourism activity on land.
The international team of coral experts from Australia, England, Curacao, France, USA, Canada, Turks & Ciaos, US Virgin Island, Netherlands, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were lead by John C Walch of the USA and Marjo van den Bulck of the Netherlands. Local assistance from The Racha staff greatly supported the efforts, making this project run as smooth as the tranquil post tsunami waters within the bay.
This team of experts assisted in the construction and deployment of the artificial reef modules that are designed and fabricated in concrete to mimic natural reefs. Concrete is poured into a fiberglass mold containing a central inflatable buoy surrounded by various sized balls to make holes. Additives are used to give the Reef Ball modules high strength and durability as well as make the concrete suitable for planting live corals and for overall marine growth. The modules are designed so that over half of the weight is distributed to the bottom near the sea floor so as to give it stability. All sizes of Reef Ball modules have withstood heavy storms including the four pre-tsunami Reef Ball modules that remained undamaged in Butok Bay throughout the tsunami.
After the 250 Reef Ball modules were deployed evenly between the 5 pre-selected dive/snorkel sites, the team accelerated the recovery process by rescuing, stabilizing, fragmenting, propagating and transplanting over 800 corals onto the Reef Ball modules. Immediate gratification of this project was reaped when a team member emerged from a dive with reports and photographs of octopus, lobster, eel, numerous fish species, and other marine life inhabiting the new artificial reef structures. Schools of juvenile fish swarm the warm waters like bees to honeysuckle because they now have restored habitat.
Additional goals met by the team consisted of but were not limited to reef clean-up, Crown of Thorns Starfish monitoring and removal of adults, livelihood restoration, development of a Post-Tsunami bay management plan, buoy installation, initiation of Marine Protected Area action plan and initiation of a coral genetic bank.
In addition to achieving the above goals, the team of experts also took on the role of teachers. The transfer of knowledge to local people regarding construction and coral propagation was near the top of the list of goals to be achieved. The technology transfer not only aided the completion the project but also is further intended to ensure that correct procedures will be adopted in the future as restoration efforts continue.
Some say it is fear that is keeping tourists away, but the need for new dive sites could possibly be the answer. This project has not only created additional dive sites but also provides boats entering the Butok Bay with a permanent mooring system. The unplanned Reef Ball modules located near each dive site stabilizes these moorings. The idea is to allow divers to descend near the sites while abstaining from disturbing the newly transplanted corals growing within the modules from anchor drops. Because of tsunami damage along the outer islands, the Butok Bay has gained popularity amongst divers, thus increasing the pressure on the recovering natural reefs.
While this initial project for Post Tsunami Restoration in Butok Bay may have been completed, there is still much work that needs to be done to help restore Thailand’s waters to pre-tsunami conditions. The Reef Ball Foundation plans to continue its support in the recovery and restoration of Thailand’s reefs with the hope that future divers will have the opportunity to visit and enjoy the captivating and wondrous waters of Thailand.
The Reef Ball Foundation would like to thank all those responsible for enabling it to have this wonderful and unforgettable opportunity to work on Racha Island. The warmth and hospitality of the Thai culture was deeply felt and appreciated by the team. The Reef Ball Foundation and its team of worldwide experts was given the opportunity to once again give back to the waters that have given each of them so much and for that they couldn’t be more grateful.
Donations to the Foundation can be designed for specific projects, countries or activities or can be in the form of general support. The Reef Ball Foundation is a 501(c)(3) publicly supported charitable organization with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia and information on their projects in countries around the World can be found at www.reefball.org.