Experts discuss tsunami damage to coral

PHUKET CITY: Some 13% of reefs inspected after the tsunami had 50% or more of their coral destroyed by the waves, experts from Japan and Thailand, as well as local divers, were told yesterday at a seminar at the Phuket Merlin Hotel. In many other places, however, the coral was undamaged.

Spearheading the seminar was Sakanan Plathong. He led a team of volunteer divers and staff from the Coral Reef and Benthos Research Unit (CRBRU) of the Department of Biology at Prince of Songkla University, Haad Yai Campus, who surveyed reefs along the Andaman Sea coast between December 30, 2004, and January 15, 2005.

Benthos is a term used in marine biology to refer to animals and plants living in, or on, or just above the seabed.

K. Sakanan said that, at the popular Similan Islands, dive sites off Island No 9 had suffered the most damage from the tsunami. However, he added, 70%-90% of the coral in the park had survived intact.

He explained that, in order to rejuvenate the coral as quickly as possible, the CRBRU organized teams of divers to clean debris from reefs, and has taken longer-term steps to protect the coral, including closing some dive sites, monitoring sea water quality and installing artificial reefs.

“The initial recovery process involves volunteers and divers from marine foundations. They are assigned to help surviving coral to recover by fixing iron frames to the seabed so the corals are not drawn away by the current.

“After this first phase, we use other methods, including attaching frames made with quick-drying cement or epoxy resin.

“We have already saved about 250 colonies, but we have about 500 more colonies to follow up on,” K. Sakanan said.

Marine Operations Center Chief Somkiat Soonthornpithukkul – to whom all marine national park chiefs in the Andaman region report – said that officers at the Similan National Park have been focusing on reviving coral reefs at Fantasy Rock and at Islands 1, 2 and 3, which have been closed since 1999.

“But other dive sites in the park are still open for divers,” he added.

Phuket News

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