Coral reefs around the world are the most beautiful eco-systems that you can imagine. From the obvious Great Barrier Reef, Australia to the little known Abul Thama, Bahrain, the colours and wildlife can captivate the first time diver. But it is important to understand the impact tourism has on these delicate areas. And, the role visitors can play in helping to save them.
Take for example the local Marine Conservation Project on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand. The small dive school and project – run by a British diver – aims to develop the understanding of responsible tourism in Thailand. By making tourists and the locals aware of the impact to the natural environment, they work to preserve the reef for future generations of responsible travellers. The welcoming team regularly dive down to the coral to check on the coral nursery (bio-rock) which is essential to ensuring the continued survival of the reef.
Coral reefs cover only 2 percent of the world’s sea beds, but support an astonishing 25 percent of the oceanic wildlife. They are also the most threatened eco-systems in the world. With the decline in coral reefs, nearly 2 million species are at risk, not to mention the millions of people that are supported by them.
As Koh Tao has become more popular, the coral reef has come under increasing pressure, and it is vital that its protection is continued.
Koh Tao itself is a stunning diving paradise, with sites within 40 minutes by boat. The sites range from a few metres below sea level to 40 metres down, where divers can witness the local wildlife, and a mixture of hard and soft corals. Alongside this is the vibrant mix of dense jungle terrain and granite outcrops, providing a beautiful surrounding for the duration of a stay.
As Koh Tao is a multi-cultural island, visitors will undoubtedly meet new and interesting individuals from a range of backgrounds and cultures. Normally teams are numbered between one to six volunteers, but even in small groups, divers work alongside a permanent team of helpful and friendly, like-minded individuals. With the continued daily support from Dev and Chad, the leaders of the team, the conservation work is scheduled once everyone is settled in properly.
Volunteering includes taking part in:
- Reef surveys (Ecological Monitoring Program)
- Biorock Coral Rehabilitation and Nursery
- Artificial Reef Construction and Maintenance
- Mid-water coral nurseries
- Giant Clam Nursery
- Sea Turtle Sanctuary and Releases
- Land and Underwater Clean-ups
Interested in volunteering?
Prices start from $924USD (£585) excluding flights, but include PADI dive training courses, with fully qualified instructors and full equipment. Approximately 70 percent of the fee goes to the conservation project, which provides employment for the Thai locals.
Volunteering abroad is rewarding and fulfilling, but it is important volunteers are fit and healthy enough to keep up with the physicality of the work, not to mention being able to cope with the high temperatures and the humidity. Taking this into consideration, the Marine Conservation Project in Koh Tao will be the most memorable experience of your life.
About the Author: Robert Hewitt is a freelance journalist and founder of Fly Far and Fast, a travel website bringing the world closer to you. Robert has written for several travel websites and online magazines, and is a proud member of Travel Bloggers Give Back. He is passionate about travel, writing and coffee. Available for freelance assignments on request. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.