BEIJING, April 11 -- 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 Andaman coast.
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.
In 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 the reefs.
"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 huge waves.
"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
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
Similar 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
Walch, who 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 Daily)