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In early May 2006 approximately 370 days after the Reef Ball volunteer team had completed building, deploying and transplanting rescued imperiled corals on 5 new designer reefs in Butok bay I had the pleasure of making a return visit. The monsoon held off long enough for me to make three dives within three days and on the third dive Khun Man of Racha Sea Master Divers accompanied me with his camera to help document the monitoring. Daniel Lim, Khun Man and myself made our first dive on the southern two reefs. Starting at south shallow the reef balls show very little natural recruitment other than some hydroids and coralline algae. There was also very few corals that survived the rescue and transplanting process. Those that had survived were mostly soft corals and full colonies that were added during the last day of “aquascaping” with direct putty method. We continued on to the South Deep reef were the percentage of survival rate of the fragmented coral plug transplanted corals increased slightly. However, 100% of the corals transplants made during the Travel Channel filming survived and are doing great. Also all the large polyp (Euphyllia sp.) stony corals that were direct putty attached and most if not all the soft corals as well from the first planting in April 2005 are also doing extremely well. The next day Khun Man and myself dove the north deep reef. This site offered many surprises and we returned the next day with a camera this time to document our findings. The amount and diversity of natural recruitment increased from the south reefs as well as the percentage of fragmented corals that survived also increased dramatically. The site selection for this man made designer Reef Ball reef also appealed to the local Thai government who also chose it as a good site to deploy their cement structures. Photos (from e-mail) 1018915 – photo of Thailand cement structures ….Cement cubes main grouping 1018916 – they were not real concerned as to how they deployed them …this one landed on a reef ball and was not moved 1018917 – close up showing that the reef balls were made well as they took the hit and did not crake 1018918 – 19 – 20 encrusting corals transplants doing well 1018921- 22 –23 randomly tossed Thai structures landed on more than Reef balls…corals head suffered a direct hit as apposed to the placement of the Reef ball near but not touching natural corals 1018924 – “Don’t fence me in” as the song goes. Or Thailand is good at ring toss! 1018925-26-27-28 more of the Thai structures on patch reef 1018929 – close up of exactly how the Thai structure landed on the reef building corals 1018930 – Anemones are returning to the Bay and while the Thai structures had only been down for a few months they have become host to the Long tentacle anemone. 1019832-33 - Acropora coral plugs doing well but showing slow growth. 1018934- B’fly fish love the Reef Balls there is a pair in almost 25% of the balls 1018835-36-37 More SPS coral plugs doing very well and growing much faster than the green Acropora 1018938-39 Reef Balls are also hosting the natural recruitment on the returning anemone 1018940 – the aquascaped full colony rescued corals are also doing very well 1018941 – Mother natures cleaning crew at work 1018942 – This rescued coral has two different species of SPS doing well together. 1018943 – Starfish still love Reef Balls also note the encrusting coral colony 1018944 – Soft corals all did extremely well and growing fast. Time and weather did not permit me to visit the center reefs and north shallow. My conclusion is mixed….the poor survival of coral plugs can be a combination of several contributing factors. 1.) The corals were very stressed from the tsunami and the added stress of fragmenting was to much 2.) The fact that they were transplanted just before the monsoon season and did not have time to recover before the water quality turned bad. 3.) The sand bottom was upside down from the tsunami and the increased water movement during the monsoon season sand blasted the corals. 4.) Something was not right on the coral table i.e. coral dip water was to warm or freshwater was used to mix with the Betadine, etc. I am not sure as I was not on the raft, and can only speculate but things did not seem right in Cayman when I saw the coral team there run the table shortly after the Thailand trip. 5.) The pollution in the form of hydrogen sulfide is very high in the bay as lots of top soil and vegetation etc from the tsunami is decomposing. This will effect stressed corals but not as detrimental to established full colonies. 6.) The decreased light levels during the monsoon also slow the growth rates and can effect stressed corals. All in all, the Reef Ball project provided the much-needed habitat in the time of crisis and will prove to be a very good long-term benefit to the damaged patch reef bay. The surviving corals are doing well and those that did not make may not have done any better if we would not have tried to save them. The client is very happy and wants to continue making more reef balls and would welcome the team back to continue to “aquascape” and monitor the designer reefs.
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