||Every day for weeks, American
John Walch has made quirky cement balls he is convinced
will sprout to life once they are dumped this month into
Thailand's coastal waters. |
The project is not
pollution, it is a form of environmental protection,
rehabilitation and, ultimately preservation of part of
Thailand's spectacular natural heritage battered in the
December 26 tsunami.
Thailand's lush marine
paradise lures millions of tourists annually with its
gorgeous coral treasures, but it is aiming to improve on
nature's bounty by planting artificial reefs along the
The kingdom's coral has earned
global renown, but as tourism has boomed in recent
years, the natural reefs are under threat as many
visitors take advantage of Thailand's cheap and easy
access to world-class dive sites.
"There is too
much diving, the number of people visiting each
particular dive site has exceeded the limit,"
conservationist Phitul Panchaiyaphum of the department
of marine and coastal resources explained on a boat to
Raja island off the southern tip of Phuket.
addition to pollution from the likes of plastic bags,
fishing lines and nets, reefs have suffered from dive
boats dropping anchor directly onto delicate coral.
Divers themselves sometimes touch, break off or step on
"We need to create more diving
destinations," he told reporters. "We are installing
artificial reefs - concrete cubes or balls where fish
will reside and coral can grow."
Walch and his
non-profit Reef Ball Foundation have put half a million
of the cement structures into the sea in 50 countries.
At the request of a resort hotel under
construction on Raja Island, Reef Ball began preparing a
Thai project in September. Three months later disaster
struck, with the tsunami barrelling into the coast.
A January assessment of the region's coral found
13 per cent of reefs showed "high impact" from the waves
- either broken or upturned coral, reefs smothered by
sand, or damaged by debris swept into the sea by the
"We're all here to help this bay
recover after the tsunami," Walch, 56, said alongside a
cement mixer set up at the site of the future hotel
dominating Raja's beach.
Over the next month
Walch and his team of international volunteers plan to
place 300 reefballs in the bay, creating five new reefs
and one snorkel trail to sit alongside the bay's lone
natural reef. "It will provide new reefs for the
increased number of tourists coming into this bay," he
said, nodding at the handful of visitors snorkelling out
in the bay's turquoise waters.
"You only have so
many natural reefs to go to. This will help lessen the
pressure by giving alternatives."
artificial reefs are planned for Kata, Patong and Kamala
bays on Phuket, and on the island of Phi Phi, famed for
its coral formations.
The projects have the
backing of the prime minister's office, the Tourism
Authority of Thailand and the ministry of environment,
all of which are eager to find ways to ease mounting
pressure on the kingdom's ecosystem.
has worked on artificial reefs for three decades, said
they will look splendid after only a few years, but
conceded the true treasures of the sea belonged to
nature. "We can never replace what Mother Nature has
done," he said, "but we can try and replicate it as good
as we can."
Source: China View