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Conservation in Thailand - Monthly Update January 2008

Fish trap found in the mangroves

2008 has started well with January flying by amid plenty of hard work and follow up activity from last year's fantastic efforts and achievements. Continuing with the environmental cleaning accomplishments of 2007, January has seen good results in both reef salvage and land based cleanups. Additionally, we have made three more missions to remove the coral-destructive Crown of Thorns starfishes (COTS) that I mentioned in December's update, and in continuation of the reef rehabilitation project we participated in at the beginning of December with PMBC, the lead scientist of this project came to run a bio-workshop on the coral research they are conducting. The mangrove research nursery has also made progress with some saplings of one species being transplanted using two different planting methods.

Cutting mangrove roots

Beginning with the land based cleaning side of the project this month there were two beach clean ups and a trip up the river from Noppharat Thara to clean amongst the mangroves lining the river banks. The first beach visited was Lam Pho Village beach, a new one for the project though just down the road from some of the other beaches previously cleaned. As it had never been cleaned before it was understandably pretty dirty, though much of the rubbish consisted of plastic bags buried in the mud and fishing line tangled up in the mangrove roots at the far end of the beach. Andaman beach was the other site cleaned with an impressive 343kg being collected with glass featuring as the most prominent material found.

Measuring coral fragments

The mangrove cleaning upriver from Noppharat Thara harbour was a fun change from the usual beach clean ups as it meant travelling in the longtail, scooping up floating debris from the boat and in places jumping on to dry land and picking up rubbish caught in the roots and branches of the trees. We came across one site on a curve of the river where a huge number of glass bottles had evidently been carried down river and collected over time to slowly become buried in the mud. We spent a good hour or two removing well over a hundred bottles from this small patch, as well as lots of pieces of polystyrene. Other interesting, dangerous and amusing items found this month were a bundle of underwear, a Power Rangers dvd, ten pairs of shoes, a bag of engine oil, a razor blade, a cooking wok, and several fish traps, giving a grand monthly total weight of 838.9kg; the fifth highest since we began compiling the monthly charts which is very good going for only three clean up efforts.

Land clearance

Reef salvage was just as impressive, if not more so, as the total amount removed from the reefs (75.5kg) was the fourth highest on record with the three months in front having specific missions to remove enormous fish nets or traps. However, this figure was achieved in slightly more than three attempts; we made eight salvage dives at eight different reefs, with the biggest hauls being 45kg and 15kg fish nets at Koh Daeng and Koh Samet, two local islands we do not often visit but evidently should check out again to ensure more nets have not been caught on the corals. As well as the normal reef cleaning we have visited three other sites to remove more COTS on the request of PMBC. Fifteen were collected from Wong Long Bay where there are still more to remove, ten were taken from Bida Nok and eight from Losama Bay.

Twin magnificent sea slug

Having discussed this with Khun Suwat it is apparent that this is a new and very worrying phenomenon as COTS can have serious detrimental consequences for the coral reefs. We have heard that around Phuket the problem is significantly worse with dive groups having removed over two hundred from one reef alone. It is thought that population explosions of COTS occur in areas of increased human activity and settlement possibly due to the increase of nutrients in the water from discharged sewage and agricultural run-off. We aim to continue this preventative action whilst at the same time informing PMBC of our efforts so that they are kept aware of the problem at the reefs we visit.

Log removal from mangrove nursery

On a more positive note for the reefs are the reef rehabilitation research projects implemented by PMBC around Viking Cave on Phi Phi Lei. In December last year Projects Abroad volunteers helped transplant coral fragments that had been cultivated in coral nurseries. These fragments had been previously grown for ten months on trays suspended with floats about six metres below the sea surface. At the beginning of 2008, PMBC and a group of university students from America had constructed another coral nursery to replace the ones transplanted in December. The PMBC scientist running the project, Khun Nalini, and two assistants came to Ao Nang to give a presentation to our volunteers on the need for research projects such as theirs, the aims and objectives, and how to monitor the growth of the corals. The following day we all went to Viking Cave and, under the supervision of Khun Nalini, the volunteers took turns in measuring the new coral fragments, whilst others cleaned the trays the corals were growing on using toothbrushes and wire brushes. It was a new and interesting activity for the volunteers, and Khun Nalini was appreciative of our help. Consequently, she has asked us to help their project by returning once every six to eight weeks to measure the height of the branching coral fragments and also clean the algae and barnacles from the trays as this is quite a time and man-power consuming activity for them to do by themselves. This is a great link to have established with such a constructive project to protect the reefs of the Andaman Sea, and the results could potentially help reef regeneration across the world if the methods are effective.

Plastic bags covering beach

There have also been the usual reef and fish surveys carried out by some volunteers whilst others have just begun learning the identification and survey methods which will allow them to contribute to the data collection in the near future. We conducted four Reef Watch surveys at Wong Long Bay, Bida Nok, Shark Point and Maya Wall, with the results being submitted to Greenfins for analysis on the data entry day that we now have at the end of each month. Ten fish surveys were carried out both at local islands and around Phi Phi, and we are currently looking into laying down permanent transect lines so that we can return to exactly the same place each time for a more precise view of changes on the reefs over time. We are planning to continue to carry out random direction fish diversity surveys recording which species we see but not actual fish counts, whereas the permanent transects will be full marine organism counts. Both survey methods are valuable and in the future will provide a variety of information on the fish and animal populations at the reefs we regularly visit. There have been some great sightings this month including a zebra moray eel swimming (an unusual but beautiful sight), three leopard sharks, two turtles, many spectacular nudibranchs and a Susan's flatworm, an octopus, two ornate ghost pipefishes which are particularly hard to spot, a school of squid, a solitary great barracuda well over 1 metre in length, and a juvenile many-spotted sweetlips dancing about crazily as they are commonly known to do.

Removing bottles from mangrove mud

And lastly on to the work carried out at our mangrove research nursery at Baan Thung Prasan; having completed the measuring of the saplings in December and noticing that some were ready for transplanting we began phase two of our research programme. Firstly we had to clear an area next to the nursery which entailed a lot of physical effort digging out the roots of weeds and moving large dead logs to make way for the new saplings. It took two days to accomplish and, once finished, we then spent another day transplanting some of the Ceriops tagal saplings into the cleared area with one metre spacing between each plant. We took the saplings previously planted in the shade, and separating each of the other variables (bags vs ground, high vs water-logged ground) we planted them using two further methods: planting half into holes without any modification, and the other half we shook the soil off and then cut away the small capillary roots as this is known to spur on faster growth in some plants. Over the coming months we will monitor their growth and survival rates to see if there is any difference between the two transplantation methods. We also plan to clear some more land and transplant some of the Brugueira sexangula saplings under the same conditions.

Mountain of marine debris

Having now completed analysis of the two species planted in phase one conditions, we are pleased to present our conclusions of our research so far. The full report can be found in the link at the bottom of this update, but in summary the first results indicate that Brugueira sexangula seeds are more successful when planted in the shade, directly into the ground and that ground type (high or waterlogged) affects growth and survival in a contradictory fashion. Ceriops tagal seeds are also more successful in waterlogged ground, and possibly in the sun and when planted directly into the ground. We plan to pass these results on to the local communities we presently work with, with the aim of improving seedling conditions in mangrove nurseries in the future.

Susan's flatworm

In Thailand until now, most mangrove nurseries have been using bags which are costly and can end up in water streams or smothering vegetation. Our results could therefore potentially be used to limit the use of bags to species for which it significantly improves survival and growth, reducing cost and negative environmental impacts to local nurseries. However, it is unknown whether the practice of sowing seeds directly into the ground will be easily accepted by local communities as it means more work is needed to transplant saplings from a nursery to the area to be planted.

So, it really has been a full and productive start to the year with progress in all areas of the project. I am confident February will be just as industrious and interesting for the volunteers with plans for a bio-workshop on coral disease given by an American scientist carrying out research in this area in collaboration with PMBC, and also releasing some anemonefish and damselfish on behalf of Krabi Fisheries Department.

Pair of trumpetfish

To end this update, I would like to draw attention to the very important fact that 2008 is the International Year of the Reef (IYOR). IYOR 2008 is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability, and to motivate people to take action to protect them. Obviously the Thailand Projects Abroad conservation project has been working on these principles for almost three years now, but in recognition of this significant international campaign, and under the suggestion of Greenfins, we are planning to adopt Mu Sang Nua as our reef to protect and study over the following year. This reef is not visited often by other dive operators but many fishermen work there and consequently snag their nets on the reef. Despite this, the reef is still very healthy and is, in my view, one of the best reefs on the area. We are still in the planning stages of what form the in-depth study will take, but we have already scheduled a visit for 16th February to carry out an initial assessment of the reef, as well as removing any fishing nets caught since the last time we visited in November last year when we removed 100kg of net. We hope to return to Mu Sang Nua at least once every two months throughout 2008. For more information on IYOR please visit http://www.iyor.org/.

Graeffe's sea cucumber

Click here and see our Results of the Thailand Projects Abroad Mangrove Nursery January 2008.

Click here and see our graphs of the amount of rubbish the volunteers have collected from the reefs and beaches here in Ao Nang in January 2008 - impressive work.

Click here and see our graphs of the amount of rubbish the volunteers have collected from the reefs and beaches here in Ao Nang over 2007 - impressive work.

Marten Meynell
3rd February 2008
Director for Thailand Conservation
Projects Abroad

Management Plan, Data & Reports

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