Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thomson Reuters Donation Aids Malaysian Marine Science

Once again we have a look at the activities of our young marine scientists. As their internships wind to a close most have volunteered to stay on at the Andaman through the busy Christmas/ New Year period.

They will continue to be hosted by the Andaman Resort and their allowances and research materials costs will come from the generous donation of Thomson Reuters.

Young marine biologists have turned the Coral Nursery into a major attraction for overseas guests.

Determination of growth rate based on linear extension growth of
massive corals by using UV-Light.

by Mohammad Ikram Bin Mohammad Naser

The annual-bands of coral core are the bands or “rings” that formed on the skeletal structure which is similar to the trunks of tree. The bands represent the different year and the skeletal structure also exhibit a regular periodic variation in bulk density reflecting seasonality. The annual-band of the coral skeleton shows the historical record in the different environmental condition. Most of the element and compound that expose to the coral will trap within the aragonite during deposition and this condition will capture a record (Readman et al., 1996).

This study aims to know the growth rate of the massive coral (Eg: Porites, Favia, Goniopora) at Datai bay by using UV light for chronological banding patter that have inside the coral skeleton . The alternating density (high density and low density) represent a year of the coral growth .

The massive coral species around the bay are survey first. Then, the selected massive coral will be cut using metal saw, where the slice/cutting is perpendicular to the main vertical growth axis of the colony. Then, the coral skeleton will let to dry and linear extension analysis will be carried out.

The linear extension method is to identify the year bands or the growth rate of the coral. The coral core will be observed under UV light lamp in a dark box  to observe the dark and light bands (the chronological banding pattern). The wavelength of the UV light is 254 nm. When the bands are revealed, the growth rate of the coral will be calculated for Linear Extension Rate. The linear extension rate will be calculated by using a ruler with 0.1 cm accuracy for each year.

Photo illustrating growth rings courtesy USGS

Monitoring of Coral Health in the Coral Nursery
by Cherylynna Roland

All living things, including the corals are susceptible to diseases, making monitoring of their well-being important for further development of nursery maintenance strategies. My task involved using Indo-Pacific Coral Health Decision Tree to identify known causes of lesions and described lesions of unknown causes through visual cues, manifested as alterations in color, shape, size, tissue loss and also growth anomaly of the polyps or skeleton of the corals (Work & Rameyer 2005).  

The growth of lesion was measured using calipers and analyzed with Coral Point Count with Excel extensions (CPCe V3.4). In the Coral Nursery, the lesions are due to abrasion from neighboring corals, accumulation of sediment on the coral colonies, and infestation by tube-building worms. I tested two strategies to see whether recovery is possible, by isolating the coral with lesions under the shade, with adequate water flowing through them, and by fragmenting the healthy coral and transplanting them in mid-water to avoid contact with sediment and allowing more efficient water exchange surrounding the fragmented corals. After one month, the corals are showing good signs of recovery, which can be seen by re-growth of polyps on the once exposed skeleton.  

In the ocean, the ability of reef recovery is important, as a research by Dixson (2014) shown that both coral larvae and fish are attracted to the smell of a healthy reef, encouraging their settlement, and thus making the reef ecosystem complex. 

Young guests gain an appreciation of marine life at fish feeding time.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Andaman and Thomson Reuters Sponsor Marine Scioentists

Dr Gerry introducing the students to the Coral Nursery program.

We have just completed a three months internship program with students from UKM (National University of Malaysia) and UMT (University of Malaysia Terrenganu). 

Seven students were hosted by the Andaman Resort with the provision of food, lodging, and supervision.  Small allowances and minor research equipment were provided by the nature Fund through the contributions of Thomson Reuters.

Coral transplanting with guests was a daily occurrence.

Below are summaries of several of the projects. The remainder will follow in the next posts. All of the numerical results are able to be published through the University giving the graduates evidence of their research ability when job hunting.

A guest is guided through the nursery by an intern marine science student.

But it wasn't all about research. Interns spent long hours transplanting corals and working with guests. Self confidence improved as did language skills. The program was a great success.

Abundance of coral using quadrat method at Datai Bay, Langkawi

by Noor Zalikha Mohamad

The mini project was done on July and August, 2014 during the low tide. The sampling was done by using 2X2 m quadrat. Each of the division of the quadrat represents about 4% from the total percentage of 100%. 

The quadrat was placed at the first starting point which is in front of water sport and then  along the beach toward Anak Datai. There is 10 m distance between quadrats and three transect were done. The total quadrat samples completed were 45. 

The result shows that the most abundant material is sand/dead which is present the highest number (46.04%-66.03%) in all three transects. Most is dead coral with algae and also dead coral skeletons. 

The percentage of live coral is small (less than 5%) compared to dead coral. However the most abundant coral life form from the project is massive coral which is contribute the highest density among the life coral. Other corals are coral foliose, coral encrusting, coral submassive and also little portion of acropora branching. Other than coral, the macroalgae also has been found during conducting the project. Most macrolagae that has been found is Halimeda sp. and others is Padina sp.

The changes of sedimentation rate in Teluk Datai
by Chai Wan Jin

Nowadays, human activity has tended to increase terrigenous sediment loadings and re-suspension in the coastal waters  in all the coral reefs countries. This is because sediments from terrestrial origin were found is the main factor that leads to the decrease in growth of most corals (Heiss, 1996; Crabble & Smith, 2005). The high sedimentation rate in the coral reef areas would smoother the coral surface, reduces regeneration from tissue damage, reduces growth (Lough & Cooper, 2011) and thus bring to mortality of coral reef (Erftemeijer et al., 2012). 

Teluk Datai is a high sedimentation bay where Porites coral is the dominant species found in the reef due to the tolerate behaviour of the coral species to the high sediment content in the water (Abdullah et al., 2011). Therefore, the objectives of this study are to compare the sedimentation rate in October 2013, January, April and September 2014 and to study the changes of sedimentation rate in the mini-ARMS and ARMS during spring and neap tides.
Sampling will be done using sediment trap during spring and neap tides in Artificial Reef Module, and mini Artificial Reef Module in August (Table 1).  

The sampling is not yet complete because there is one more spring tide in this coming 26th and 27th August. Therefore, the sampling analysis will be done in the coming 1st September at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.

The data in the previous sampling shows most of the sedimentation rate exceeded the coral tolerance limit, 50 mg/cm2/day in October 2013. However, it shows a better result in January 2014, where only Princess Bay had the sedimentation rate higher than the coral tolerant limit and the results show even better in April 2014 (Figure 1). These results could be due to the raining season in October and the strong wind from northeast in January which would create the most intense near-bed current and eventually would bring re-suspension from the bottom especially in the shallow water. 

 Measuring the rate of spread of a coral disease.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Eight kids and World Ocean Day

Another year had passed and concerned people were celebrating World Ocean Day on June 8th. We all depend on a healthy and clean ocean for our very survival and the latest scientific research is painting a dismal picture of things to come. Most of us know we need to act to turn around the damage caused by unwise use, pollution, and over fishing. But few of us do anything.

This year’s theme is, “Together we have the power to protect the ocean” and all over the globe small groups of people set out to make a difference.

Perhaps the smallest but most well meaning effort was on the tiny island of Langkawi just a few kilometers from the Thailand- Malaysia border. There the Andaman Resort operates a small coral nursery that both educates children and rehabilitates a tsunami ravaged coral reef.

This year the small band of young volunteers (and a couple of parents who wanted to get involved with their children) were busy maintaining the nursery, feeding the lobsters, and grafting tiny corals when World Ocean Day rolled around.

What could eight dedicated children do to save the sea; how could so few make a difference?

When the 2004 tsunami roared ashore, the huge wave swept tens of thousands of living corals off the fringing reef and up into the ancient rainforest. Over the last 4 years guests at the luxury resort have collected by hand about 100 tonnes of dead coral skeletons and carried them to the coral nursery.

There, with the assistance of resort staff, the dead coral rock is recycled into mini-Artificial Reef Modules that provide much needed shelter for young marine life and a stable substrate for corals to grow on. They are heavy, have ‘baby’ corals attached, and are difficult to move.

“But we want to do it! We want to take the corals out to the reef”, said Liam who was quickly backed up by his determined younger brother, Callum. Liam is one of the hard working volunteers that regularly return to the Andaman to work at the Coral Nursery. 

World Ocean day marked the fourth visit of his family since the end of 2013 and school holidays. Determined to become a marine biologist because of his Nursery experiences, Liam led the way.

Bamboo from the rainforest served as a framework, odd pieces of rope and ‘strange’ knots worked as fastenings, and inner tubes from tires provided flotation. The kids built their own raft and managed to load the mini- Artificial Reef Modules aboard. Plastic kitchen utensils splashed water over the living corals and swimmers in life jackets towed the raft out to the reef where the Modules were lowered to the ocean floor.

Coral reefs comprise the most diverse ecosystems on Earth but are now threatened with destruction. They occupy just over 0.15% of the world’s oceans, yet incredibly they provide a home for an estimated 25% of all marine species. They really are the “engine room” of the sea and their loss will cripple the marine environment on a global scale.

Productivity is higher than in other tropical waters and 6 million tons of fish are taken each year from the world’s coral reefs. Most of this stays in protein-poor countries. Langkawi’s community is largely dependent on local fisheries for protein and the next generation needs the Andaman Reef. 

Biodiversity is the loudest catch cry in environmental research today. It is a measure of the complexity of an ecosystem and is now thought to be related to the health of the entire planet. Southeast Asian coral reefs have the highest levels of biodiversity of all the world’s marine ecosystems, perhaps the highest biodiversity since the beginning of life on Earth. 

But, recent surveys show that 10% of the world’s coral reefs are already dead.  It is estimated that another 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to destructive, human-related activities.  Man’s threat to the health of reefs is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where an appalling 80% of reefs are endangered.  Sadly, Southeast Asian coral reefs are now the world’s most threatened, being impacted by the activities of man.

The global economic value of these tiny coral reefs is staggering, estimated at $30 billion annually. Southeast Asia’s coral reef fisheries alone yield about $2.4 billion annually. According to the WWF, the economic cost over a 25 year period of destroying one kilometre of coral reef is somewhere between $137,000 and $1,200,000.  Conversely, the economic benefit of saving one kilometre of reef is the same.

The children worked most of the afternoon putting six Modules with 30 coral colonies in place. By doing something small but highly visible in Langkawi the children helped to focus attention on the plight of reefs around the world.

Sunburned, thirsty, scraped knuckles, and smiling, the children returned to shore and the cool of the rainforest to share their adventure with their parents.

Will their experience change the way they live? It has already.
The kids proved that even one person can make a difference and “Together we have the power to protect the ocean!”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slow Life and the Andaman Sea; A 'Must Watch' Video

I was just enchanted by the great work of photographer Daniel Stoupin when it came to my attention several months ago. Many animals appear to be motionless relative to our busy lives. But they arent; they do move and can be caught on camera. Coral reefs take on a new perspective through his lens.

Corals evolved about 550 million years ago and have survived all that Nature could 'throw' at them. Sadly, they are not doing well since modern industrialized man turned his interests to the sea. Nearly half of all the world's coral has died in the last 50 years.

Slow Life

"Slow" marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

This clip, as well as stock footage, is available in 4k resolution. Make sure you watch it on a large screen! You won't be able to appreciate this clip or see individual cells moving in a sponge on a smartphone. If you have a full-HD screen, when you enter full-screen mode, please press on "view actual size" next to the HD icon to improve sharpness.

To make this little clip I took 150000 shots. Why so many? Because macro photography involves shallow depth of field. To extend it, I used focus stacking. Each frame of the video is actually a stack that consists of 3-12 shots where in-focus areas are merged. Just the intro and last scene are regular real-time footage. One frame required about 10 minutes of processing time (raw conversion + stacking). Unfortunately, the success rate was very low due to copious technical challenges and I spent almost 9 long months just to learn how to make these kinds of videos and understand how to work with these delicate creatures."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Thomson Reuters to the Rescue; CEO Circle Builds Artificial Reefs

It’s just on a month ago that staff at The Andaman Resort were preparing for the arrival of their biggest ever CSR group. Community and Social Responsibility (CSR) has become the latest team activity of concerned businesses around the world who realize that they do owe something to the environment and community that has contributed in part to their success.

The Andaman’s group was the CEO Circle from the huge Thomson Reuters Corporation and the participants were all about getting things done and moving ahead. What was wonderful is that they had chosen the Andaman for its incredible natural setting and geological history and, perhaps most significantly, the coral reef rehabilitation program. They wanted to make a difference for this tiny tropical island and its people.

Those following this blog will know that the 2004 tsunami devastated coral reefs in the Andaman Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The Andaman Resort has been working to reverse the damage through reef rehabilitation and an artificial reef project that’s just off the ‘drawing board’.

Support for the reef based projects has been strong through earlier CSR group activities and from the continuous ‘stream’ of concerned guests. But now we had a resort filled with eager participants armed with an understanding of how pressing ocean and coral reef conservation was becoming in this part of the world. This was going to be great!

The group was split up into four teams with different tasks. In the end all of these would mesh together for the final result; more coral and badly needed shelter on a reef stripped bare by a tsunami generated by the third largest earthquake in recorded history.

Their smallest team mounted tiny living ‘coral chips’ on common cement building bricks. The ‘chips’ grow quickly in the Andaman’s coral nursery where they are kept until ready for transplanting. Currently, the nursery is transplanting three species that have proven to be hearty and fast growing. Parent material is selected from colonies that are living in warm, shallow water; these may provide future generations with a head start in dealing with slowly increasing ocean temperatures.

Their largest team was given the unenviable task of building concrete “mini-ARMs”. This is an acronym for miniature artificial reef modules. These small concrete hemispheres are about 500mm in diameter, have three or four small entrances, and are covered in coral rubble. The rubble is the product of the tsunami. When the wave struck, tens of thousands of live corals were swept ashore and up into the rainforest.

We collect these coral skeletons and with the assistance of guests have now ‘stockpiled’ over 100 tons of limestone that can be recycled to the reef for future coral growth. The skeletons are incorporated into the “mini-ARMs” concrete and produce a natural looking exterior ripe for colonization by young coral colonies and numerous invertebrates.

“Mini-ARMs” are very important; they not only provide the right kind of surface to support future coral growth, they provide shelter and growing room for predatory fish like groupers that are now overfished by the local community. Groupers are mid-sized predators that are important in the reef food web and are also highly sought after by man.

A third team took older coral colonies off the cement bricks where they had ‘matured’ in the nursery for up to six months. These corals were then transplanted to the Resort’s stockpiled “mini-ARMs” and carried down to the sea for their journey out to the reef edge.

The fourth team was our engineers (the term is used loosely). Their task was to turn a pile of tire tubes, bamboo, and pieces of rope into an ocean going craft capable of carrying the heavy concrete “mini-ARMs”, twin propulsion units (CEOs with paddles), and a coral life support system (CEOs with buckets to keep the coral transplants wet).

Once at the reef edge, snorkelers would help to drop the “mini-ARMs” into place in locations I had earlier selected and marked with buoys. The CEO Circle of Thomson Reuters was terrific placing 24 “mini-ARMs” and a total of 100 corals on the reef.

They also made an additional 40 “mini-ARMs” and added nearly 100 tiny corals to the nursery. These are now being placed on the reef by guests that have followed in the CEO Circle’s footsteps.

Since the CEO Circle’s visit, I have met with the Department of Fisheries, Langkawi’s four fishing community leaders, Lafarge Malaysia (Kedah Cement), and the National University of Malaysia. The outcome of this is that we now have broad approval for the next stage of the project which is the placing of full size artificial reef modules (ARMs) for the benefit of the people of Langkawi. Our first ‘scientifically’ designed artificial reef will be in Datai Bay near the small island called Anak Datai.

The efforts and financial contribution of the CEO Circle of Thomson Reuters has acted as a catalyst for the establishment of a planned non-profit foundation to oversee the artificial reef’s development and the continuation of this project.

But why do we feel that this is so important? Why do we need corals and groupers back on the reef?

What wasn’t known before but has recently been published in Ecology Letters (February, 2013) is that the reduction in numbers of just one predator like the groupers can bring about the extinction of many others. This helps to explain the ancient global catastrophes caused by things like meteorites, volcanoes, and climate changes.

Lead researcher Dr Frank van Veen of the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation said: “We have shown that the complex ripple effect of a change in population size across food webs is more sensitive than previously thought and that a reduction in the numbers of one carnivore can lead to the extinction of another carnivore species. We also found evidence that the second extinction can trigger further ones, leading to a cascade of extinctions, like dominoes toppling over.”

This disturbing finding seems to explain why our 'single species' approach to conservation, the one most used in fisheries management, just does not work. As a marine ecologist I am very concerned. Our fisheries are in crisis! The FAO estimates that 70% of world commercial fisheries have already collapsed or are now collapsing. I have been told that Malaysian fishermen have caught about 95% of their stocks. Langkawi depends on seafood and since the tsunami, fishing pressure and the lack of suitable habitat is driving local reef carnivores, like the groupers, toward the brink of extinction regionally.

If Dr van Veen is right then we can expect other carnivors that are not part of our fisheries to dive toward extinction and still more to follow them. The bulk of Langkawi’s ocean food pyramid may collapse in a very short time.

More than a third of Indian Ocean coral reef species are now at risk of local extinction according to a study published in Ecology Letters (2011). The cause is the continuous warming of our planet but the impact may be far greater than predicted if the work of Dr Frank van Veen is correct. The loss of just one temperature sensitive predator can bring down even the heat tolerant species. The ripple effect on coral reefs may be devastating with the loss of most of the fisheries that now support 200 million people in tropical regions.

Here on the tiny island of Langkawi we are doing what we can to repair the damages caused by a tsunami that changed not only our reef but our future. But we are doing more than that.

With the help of groups like CEO Circle from Thomson Reuters, we are showing the world that we all have a part to play in maintaining this planet’s environment. And we are showing others that each business and each individual can accept their responsibility and really can make a difference.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Big Things Have Small Beginnings; An Artificial Reef for the Andaman Sea

Those readers who may have spoken with me can’t have missed the point that I am deeply concerned about the state of the ocean. Things that we depend on are failing fast; our ‘ship’ is sinking and it seems that there is little that we can do.

World Ocean Day was the 8th of June, 2013 and on the tiny island of Langkawi, Malaysia we showed the world one way that we can help to keep our ‘ship’ afloat and get back on course.

 Most marine organisms seek out shelter.

Research over the last ten years has shown that coastal ecosystems play a critical part in removing carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuel and responsible for at least some of our global warming problems. In fact, these systems and seawater itself have removed about half of all the carbon dioxide we produced since the Industrial Revolution. One of the most important coastal carbon sinks is the coral reef, locking up green house gases in thousands of tons of new coral skeletons each year. 

But sadly the growth of coral has been shown to be impeded by overfishing. That’s right; removing too many fish alters the reef food web and corals are squeezed out by seaweeds. Living corals all over the globe are now being lost at 1% each year and that has been going on for the last 40 years.

A sad example of the impact of man on this devastating relationship is found on the reefs of S.E. Asia where 80 percent are now endangered and fish stocks are collapsing. Fisheries estimates in Malaysia indicate that more than 90 percent of the resource has been taken. The World Development Report 2010 - Development and Climate Change, shows that rebuilding fish stocks can both improve resilience to climate change and increase economic returns to the fishing industry by US$50 billion per year. 

Attempts to slow reef damage and accelerate fish production by creating artificial reefs have gone on since the 1950’s with limited success. Worst was a used tire reef off Florida, USA that became an environmental disaster when two million tires broke loose and smashed into natural reefs. 

Other artificial reef structures included discarded ships, trains, and rubble. Of those reefs that seemed to be working, most have remained barren.

In contrast to what has been little more than dumping our garbage into the sea and calling it an artificial reef, the “Reef Ball” has been manufactured and distributed under license by The Reef Ball Foundation (Todd Barber) since 1993. Of the nearly 600,000 made, many have been used in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Reports of “Reef Ball” success vary.

 Reef balls provide a place for other organisms to settle.
“Reef Balls” are spheres, very uniform in shape, with little place for small animals to hide. "Structurally complex reefs provide nooks and crannies for thousands of species and provide the habitat needed to sustain productive reef fisheries,” said Peter Mumby of The University of Queensland in Current Biology (May 9, 2013).

Reefs may be suffering but collapse is not inevitable.

The situation in Langkawi called for something different.  There were already substantial coral reefs nearby but overfishing was holding back production and nets were damaging coral. What was needed was an extension of the fishing grounds into deeper water and away from the shallow nursery areas.
The concept started with the Andaman Resort, Langkawi where a Coral Nursery was already up and running. The National University of Malaysia (UKM) that opened its Langkawi Research Centre (PPL) on March 19, 2013 and the islands largest manufacturer, Lafarge’s Kedah Cement joined in.

 Molds for the artificial reef modules under construction.

Both the Andaman Resort (through myself as environmental consultant) and UKM have extensive backgrounds in coral reef ecology, fisheries management, and artificial reefs. It was the artificial reefs that were considered to have the best chance of improving Langkawi’s fish stocks.

Not only did the interested parties want to restore fish stocks and enhance coral growth; they wanted to draw the community together to protect and manage their marine resources into the future.

The three-party working group designed their own Artificial Reef Module (ARM) and constructed the first prototype in May, 2013. These small modules are cement based and designed to suit the behaviour and sizes of local fish species. They are unique and a product of initiatives taken on Langkawi. They will be constructed, deployed, and managed through the generosity of the working group, tourists, local community, and financial contributions of outside and overseas organizations. They will not be patented, there are no royalties for their use, and will be available to local community that want to assist.
  First prototype (shown upside-down) after removal from the mold.

Mr. Kee Alfian of the UKM and PPL states that “Anecdotal information suggests that water quality was better and coral reefs were probably healthier prior to extensive development and forest clearing. More prolific coral growth and fewer fishermen would have guaranteed a better catch in years past. We hope the new ARMs will turn this situation around.”

Unlike most artificial reef projects of the past, the development of this network of artificial reefs will be science based. Research students working toward Master and Ph.D. degrees will monitor and improve design and positioning of the ARMs in the years to come.

Over the next twelve months the working group will survey a section of Langkawi’s reefs and will attempt to put in place 500 ARMs covering about 13,000 square metres.

“This is only a start,” said UKM’s Prof. Norhayati Ahmad. “With community support these artificial reefs can be extended over large tracts of the seabed. Research has shown that well managed coral reefs can produce as much as 15 tonnes of fish per square kilometre. It would be wonderful if we could achieve this target.”

“Kedah Cement will be making more moulds once the prototype is tried and tested. Through local support, community involvement, and the assistance of resort guests we hope to add more artificial reef areas each year” said Lafarge’s project manager Syed-Muhammad Syed-Nadzir.

While the project is on the brink of its official launch, interest is already being shown by environmentally active organizations in other parts of Malaysia. The launch will be held at the Andaman Resort later this year. Extensive media coverage is planned.

"Business as usual isn't going to cut it," said Peter Mumby (Univ. of Queensland). "The good news is that it does seem possible to maintain reefs -- we just have to be serious about doing something. It also means that local reef management -- efforts to curb pollution and overfishing -- are absolutely justified. Some have claimed that the climate change problem is so great that local management is futile. We show that this viewpoint is wrongheaded."

UKM’s  Mr. Kee Alfian and Prof. Norhayati agreed, “If the reefs around Langkawi are properly rehabilitated, there is a possibility (within 10 years) that we will see a real ‘comeback’ of reef organisms and an increase in fish production”.

“We’ve really only started the ball rolling. When local communities, businesses, and schools join us, we have a real chance of making a difference and showing the world how people on a small island can band together to protect their children’s futures”, said Mr Adrian Stoppe, Manager of Langkawi’s Andaman Resort.

A line borrowed from the 1962 “Lawrence of Arabia” is used again in the film “Prometheus” when David referring to evolution says, “Big things have small beginnings.” For the sake of future generations and this little blue planet, let us all hope he is right.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Reef for Our Children By Dr. Gerry Goeden

On December 26, 2004 a tsunami generated by the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, the third largest earthquake in recorded history, roared into Datai Bay on the Northwest corner of Langkawi,Malaysia. This bay and its nearby surroundings support the best coral reef development in the sleepy waters of this quiet island. When the tsunami struck, it swept tens of thousands of coral boulders shoreward stripping the southern half of the reef of most of its marine life and depositing it on the beach and in the adjacent rainforest.

Much of the coral rubble was produced by the tsunami and now hinders regeneration.

In September, 2010 The Andaman Resort commissioned a survey of the Andaman Reef platform. Contrary to appearances the Andaman Reef was still ‘alive and breathing’ but needed urgent help. Their solution was a two pronged approach.

First, they initiated a “coral clearing” program in which staff and guests clear away dead coral from among the still living colonies. This prevents further damage from tumbling coral boulders during times of heavy wave action. Using just their bare hands and wheelbarrows, hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers have already removed about 80 tonnes of rock greatly improving the chances of survival for the live colonies.

Guests involved in coral clearing learn about tsunami damage 'first hand'.

Secondly, the Resort owners dipped deep into their pockets and built a Coral Nursery. This swimming pool-sized saltwater reef is capable of producing several thousand small corals each year using ‘cuttings’ taken from the wild. 

It is also a wonderful education center where people can view marine life and kids can be a “marine biologist” for a day and really get their hands dirty ‘saving the environment’. When the little nursery corals are tough enough they will be re-located to the Andaman Reef into small coral gardens.

So why all the effort?

Often called “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs comprise the most diverse ecosystems on Earth but are now threatened with destruction. They occupy just over 0.15% of the world’s oceans, yet incredibly they provide a home for an estimated 25% of all marine species. They really are the “engine room” of the sea and their loss will cripple the marine environment on a global scale. Doing something small but highly visible in Langkawi helps to focus attention on the plight of reefs around the world.

Productivity is higher than in other tropical waters and 6 million tons of fish are taken each year from the world’s coral reefs. Most of this stays in protein-poor countries.  Well managed coral reefs have an annual yield on average of 15 tons of seafood per square kilometre. Langkawi’s community is largely dependant on local fisheries for protein and the next generation needs the Andaman Reef. As the eco-tourist industry increases so too will the cash returns from this rehabilitation program. A well managed reef lets you to ‘have your cake and eat it too’.

Biodiversity is the loudest catch cry in ecology. It is a measure of the complexity of an ecosystem and is now thought to be related to the health of the entire planet. Southeast Asian coral reefs have the highest levels of biodiversity of all the world’s marine ecosystems, perhaps the highest biodiversity since the beginning of life on Earth.  Sadly, Southeast Asian coral reefs are now the world’s most threatened, being impacted by the activities of man. Coastal development, chemical runoff from the land, and destructive fishing practices head the list and reef biodiversity is falling fast.

Most Asian fish are caught before they are mature and can reproduce.

The global economic value of these tiny coral reefs is staggering, estimated at $30 billion annually. Southeast Asia’s coral reef fisheries alone yield about $2.4 billion annually. Again, most of this remains in poor countries. More importantly reefs provide renewable resources if managed with an eye to the future; much needed income year after year. According to the WWF, the economic cost over a 25 year period of destroying one kilometre of coral reef is somewhere between $137,000 and $1,200,000.  Conversely, the economic benefit of saving one kilometre of reef is the same.

Recent surveys show that 10% of the world’s coral reefs are already dead.  It is estimated that another 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to destructive, human-related activities.  Man’s threat to the health of reefs is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where an appalling 80% of reefs are now endangered. 

In the face of all this gloom the Andaman Reef story is heartening in that a small private business, its customers, and the surrounding community are taking on the responsibility of doing something positive toward environmental rehabilitation in the sea. By saving a coral reef the people of the Andaman are protecting the future of our children.