Artificial Wreck of Koh Tao


Diving Thailand Koh Tao wreck designWreck 2010 will be an alternative dive site and coral/fish nursery to reduce diving pressures on natural reef areas. This project is part of a larger program being enacted by the Save Koh Tao Marine Branch. The Wreck will be constructed from prefabricated concrete components to mimic a cargo ship wreck.

This new wreck dive site  is specially designed to function as a SCUBA training site and coral/fish nursery. This project will be conducted with the assistance from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), Prince of Songkla Univeristy, and Mohidol Univeristy International College.


By increasing the amount of environmental action and education can the long-term sustainability of the local environment and economy be ensured.  Wreck 2010 will function as an eco-attraction that will help to raise awareness on reef threats and restoration techniques being used.

Specific goals of the project include:
– Construct reef structures in new areas
– Increase diver proficiency in buoyancy and underwater awareness skills
– Reduce negative impacts on Koh Tao’s reefs
– Study the applicability of artificial reef technologies and materials
– Maintain biodiversity
– Attempt to restore ecosystem balances
– Contribute to ongoing research into the applicability and benefits of various artificial reef construction methods and techniques.
– Educate locals about negative and positive impacts on coral reef ecosystems


Diving Thailand Koh Tao Wreck Site MapState of Koh Tao’s Reefs

On Koh Tao, many human activities have a direct and observable negative effect on reef health. Few waste water treatment systems exist, causing an increase in nutrient and pollutant concentrations in the island bays where it creates a competitive advantage for algae over corals; decreasing reef resilience and making rebound from bleaching events almost impossible in some areas. Development and deforestation are occurring at a rapid pace, releasing tons of sediment into the coastal waters during rain events. This leads to reduced light availability for photosynthesis, causes further stress to corals for removal, and in some cases can bury reefs completely (Castro 2007; Wilkinson1999). These local disturbances are also being combined with the threats of global climate change such as rising sea temperatures and changes in ocean acidity and chemistry. Overall reef health, abundance, biodiversity, and resilience are all being decreased at an alarming rate and unless action is taken these delicate ecosystems could be lost as well as the economies which rely upon them.
Of the human impacts to coral reefs observed on Koh Tao, the ones directly addressed by this project are diving and over-fishing or extraction of reef organisms. Over-extractive coastal fishing activities can quickly decrease reef diversity, and the removal of algae-grazing fish allows macro-algae to dominate in coral reef areas. Fishing around Koh Tao is largely unregulated and techniques include spears, traps, and large nets; all of which are very effective, but unselective and extremely damaging. Long time island residents and divers agree that the abundance, size, and variety of fish and economically valuable reef organisms has decreased dramatically in recent years. This loss of certain species causes a disruption in the reef balance leading to lower diversity and resilience.

Decreasing Local Reef Threats

These problems must be stopped first through changes in regulation and enforcement, and these are being addressed by other projects through Save Koh Tao and its partner groups. Fishing practices are difficult to alter without policy changes at many government levels. Even with legislation to protect fish and marine species, it is extremely difficult for government organizations to enforce rules and manage entire ecosystems. It may however be possible for the community to designate this site as a ‘no take’ zone to maintain an area of high diversity. In doing so, this project could serve as an introduction for the local people to new resource management strategies that can be used in the face of rising tourism and development and be the first step in the DMCR/Save Koh Tao Marine Zoning Project.
Tourism yields much higher GDP’s than fishing and can benefit more individual business owners for a longer period of time. In 1992, the world tourism market traded $1.9 Trillion USD, while the fishing industry traded about $27 Billion USD (Birkeland 1997). If tourism can be managed and controlled through sustainable practices, it can occur at a benefit to subsistence economies. These regulatory and preventative solutions may help to slow coral reef degradation, but proactive restoration efforts are vital to sustaining reef biodiversity. By creating diverse habitats for marine organisms through this project we can attempt to restore historic populations in order to improve reef resilience, and accelerate coral reef succession after a disturbance to sustain the local economies through reef tourism.
Wrecks, artificial reefs, coral nurseries, and fish nurseries have been used around the world to improve the abundance, biodiversity, value, and resilience of reef ecosystems disturbed by over fishing or extraction (Carr. Current restoration efforts being employed on Koh Tao include techniques such as cement structures of the Buoyancy World 2009 Project, PVC based nurseries, mid-water coral nurseries, mineral accretion structures such as the Hin Fai project from 2008. Through the construction and regular maintenance of these previous projects, the local community has become versed in many forms of restoration and have achieved high levels of success, although on small scales. It should be noted however that these efforts work only if water quality, light availability, and temperature are all within the range for healthy coral growth.
Both planned and accidental ship wrecks can be found in many places around the world, and these sites generally show a much higher level of species diversity and abundance than the surrounding area that is lacking in solid substrate. Indeed, sinking boats, military equipment, train cars, cargo containers, etc. is widely accepted and being used around both Thailand and the rest of the world. This project however will differ from other projects in many respects in that the wreck will be specially designed for multiple uses and longevity. Wood, steel, and metal wrecks are easy to build or get delivered, but our community has chosen against this due to the following considerations:

• Wood and metal do not last long in tropical seas
• Metal will become dangerous to divers over time (sharp edges, loss of structural integrity, etc)
• Wood wrecks tend to be only slightly negatively buoyant, and are likely to move around
• Wrecks not designed as artificial reefs contain paints, oil, sealants, and other chemicals that will leach out over time and are dangerous to marine life
• Delivered wrecks are not specially designed for diver instruction or specialty dive courses
• Sinking of an existing boat or equipment does not bring our community together to construct the project
Instead, our community will focus efforts on designing a wreck made of prefabricated concrete made locally in Thailand, and construct the project underwater. Thus supporting the local economy, creating unity amongst island stakeholders, and eliminating the risk of creating a ‘rubbish dump’ under the sea.

Mitigating Direct Human Impacts on Local Reefs

The Koh Tao Wreck 2010 project will be constructed in Ao Leuk, an area that already has favorable conditions and water quality for coral growth, but lacks substrate for coral recruitment. Artificial reefs built in managed areas that do not have natural reefs increase the abundance and diversity of reefs in that area (Carr 1997, Sheehy 1982). As an artificial reef, the project will increase the reef area on Koh Tao by allowing for the natural recruitment of coral colonies. As a coral nursery the project can be used to rehabilitate broken or damaged corals by providing a stable growing area, after the corals have developed into mature colonies they can either be left on the structure or moved back out onto natural reef areas. Any structure which provides topography or hiding space (rubbish, piers, oil platforms, etc.) will attract fish. Generally these structures do not actually increase the total amount of fish in the sea, but provide an aggregate site where fish concentrations will be higher. If the structures are built to provide a variety of crevices, holes, and other diverse fish habitats than it can act as a fish spawning and nursery site. There have been some criticisms of artificial fish nurseries in the past, but this pertains mostly to using them for fishing purposes or when poorly planned (Whoriskey 2006). As an MPA this site could serve as a ‘safe-zone’ for spawning and juvenile fish that would otherwise be extracted from the other areas around the island by fishing practices.
The negative impacts of fishing and extraction are compounded by the high numbers of divers and snorkelers using Koh Tao’s Reefs. A study conducted in South Africa Found that in less than 15 hours of combined observation time, 222 divers were observed to contact the reef 129 times by accident, 38 times deliberately, and 55 times to anchor themselves (Walters 2001). As expected, this study found that there was an inverse relationship between diver experience level and the number of contacts. Another study conducted in the Caribbean observed divers in the same fashion and obtained very similar results, and noted that fins were responsible for the greatest proportion of major damage (95.2%) (Barker 2004). These studies indicate that diver self-awareness is generally very poor, and that many divers are not being properly instructed on buoyancy skills and the negative impacts diving can have on reef ecosystems. Though these effects tend to be localized, in combination with other stress factors reef health and resilience is greatly reduced.
These two studies showed impacts on the scale of a few hundred people using a reef for recreational diving, but Koh Tao sees over 300,000 visitors per year, with an estimated 90% of those visitors trying snorkeling, and 60% diving. Those diving generally are novices and take at least one diving course (which involves 5 or more dives.) Koh Tao has become the center of dive training for SE Asia, with more certifications issued here than in any other one place in the world. It was estimated last year that our island is experiencing over 3,000 dives per day between the 45 dive schools located on the 19km2 island. In other areas around the world, such as the Caribbean, it was estimated that a reef could support about 4,500 to 5,000 dives per year (about 13 dives/day) before serious degradation would be experienced. Well over that amount of dives is seen on even the most remote areas of Koh Tao.
Furthermore, dive tourism is expected to increase with global reef related tourism by 20% per year for the next few years (Cesar 2003). In order to facilitate the increasing visitor numbers on Koh Tao it is vital that the community take action to protect their natural reef areas. Through this project we hope to provide a unique and diverse diver training area to facilitate instruction of advanced buoyancy skills and remove novice divers from natural reef areas. The study by Barker (2004) found that instructor intervention was the most effective way to reduce the diver contact rates with reefs (decrease from 0.3 contacts per minute to 0.1 contacts per minute.) Not only will this project help to reduce the amount of structural damages occurring on the natural reef areas, but it will improve diver safety and reduce incidences of diver injury or illness.
It is often due to lack of education and awareness that both fishers and divers do not realize the negative effects of their activities and the magnitude of those effects on the health of the reef ecosystems they are reliant upon. Through this project we hope to increase the amount of awareness and education about marine ecosystems amongst both the tourists visiting the site and the locals on the island. By integrating this project into part of the 16 week Environmental Curriculum being developed for the island’s local school through Save Koh Tao, it is hoped that the next generation of island residents take more responsibility and participate in the stewardship of their natural ecosystems and resources.

Fundamental Changes to Provide Sustainable Economies

To manage ecosystems and control destructive techniques and over-exploitation, local communities need to take management into their own hands and work together to protect shared resources. Destructive diving activities need to be addressed by the diving community through an alteration of some current practices and needs to include more education and proactive efforts by dive shops and instructors. At the same time, this project aims to allow communities to utilize new markets to actively protect areas through the use of tourism money. By increasing community involvement in projects through market based systems it may be possible to bring awareness and activism to the community to facilitate widespread monitoring and protection to decrease human impacts on reef ecosystems.
Effective management and control policies that take into consideration the growth of economies and populations and the protection of natural resources need to be implemented. Community involvement needs to be maximized in order to effectively conserve natural resources. Educating and involving the local communities in sustainable non-extractive practices that provide long-term revenues can decrease over-exploitation for short-term, maximized profits. This project attempts to involve the community in order to boost ideas of eco-tourism and sustainability as an effective way to earn profits without over-extracting resources.


The Wreck 2010 project will be headed by the Save Koh Tao Community Group and carried out by members of the community and the local dive schools with the assistance of the Thailand Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR). The project has been designed to maximize the amount of community participation to both promote cohesiveness and empower locals and dive shop staff with the skills they need to construct similar projects in the future. By maximizing the amount of participation it is possible to provide the funding for the project through local means, making the project more time efficient and locally oriented. By involving the local community in the project we can ensure that the site will be used and maintained into the future to provide project longevity and sustainability. In order to maximize the amount of local participation it is important that the site be planned and constructed together with the local community and placed in an area that is accessible to the majority of the island’s dive schools through most of the diving season, or accessible when the Buoyancy World project of 2009 is not accessible to due waves or weather.
The general plan for the site is to construct one large structure (a car ferry), surrounded by multiple smaller structures, features will include:
– Training Aids
– Swim-throughs, mazes, or caves
– Advanced Wreck penetration areas
– Rings, hoops, and other obstacles
– Permanent CESA Lines
– Navigation check points
– Search and recovery objects
– Ecological Monitoring Program/Reef Check Belt Transects
– Coral Nursery Platforms/anchoring points
– Art & Sculptures
– Fish Nurseries/aggregates
– Diverse habitats for other marine organisms

These features will allow for Wreck 2010 to be a multipurpose site, attractive to both novice and expert divers. Through the use of the SCUBA teachings aids novice divers can get a unique training experience which will better prepare them for diving in natural areas with out injuring themselves or the marine life. By integrating teaching aids from advanced and specialty dive courses such as Search and Recovery, EMP/Reef Check, and Navigation, the site can be used by a wide range of students, relieving pressure on over used natural reef sites. Coral, fish, and invertebrate nurseries and habitat will improve the positive impact this project has on local reef abundance, biodiversity, and resilience and allow the site to blend into the natural reef environment. Sculptures and other artistic pieces integrated into the site will improve the site appearance and customer satisfaction.
All of these features will be designed by community members here on Koh Tao, then the prefabricated parts will be ordered from local sources. Upon Delivery to the island, local residents will be responsible for the underwater construction and decoration of the site. In order to prevent unforeseen accidents or problems we will work closely with our advisors and partners at the DMCR, Prince of Songkla, and Mohidol Universities.
The SKT Marine Branch has set up a list of acceptable materials and methods of construction that all designs will have to adhere to. This has been done to prevent damaging materials or unsafe structures from being put down and also to ensure project feasibility using only the limited resources available on our island.


Methods of design and construction for this site may vary, but there is a guideline to which all designs and structures must be built. First, the site must be designed with natural marine environments in mind, and should mimic a natural reef. Also, the structures should be designed with a specific function in mind using the following categories: Buoyancy/underwater skills, Coral nursery/substrate, Fish aggregation/nursery, Art (i.e. structures that are attractive or fun on their own). This criteria has been set up to ensure that the site is attractive and functional and not set up like a ‘rubbish dump,’ as has been done in some projects around the world.
Next, the structures should be diverse in materials and methods to encourage a high diversity of organisms to inhabit the area. Structures should provide holes and crevices to act as fish and invertebrate habitats and potentially as reproductive and nursery areas. Areas specified for coral growth should be made with materials that encourage natural recruitment of coral larvae (natural recruitment is encouraged over coral transplanting in this project). Natural recruitment can be encouraged using solid substrate such as concrete, clay tiles or limestone which has a rough or porous surface for larvae settlement.
Lastly, single structures should be made in sections that can be assembled underwater or else be of a size and weight that is manageable for the delivery ship. No large parts of the site should extend above 1/3 of the total water column depth to ensure stability and also reduce any potential changes in local ocean currents or circulations. The site should be laid out perpendicular to the prevailing current direction for stability and also ease of navigation. And, all obstacles/features must be safe and comply with recognized regulations for Recreational and Technical Diving.


All materials used in this project must mimic or potentially become integrated into the natural environment (with the exception of floats or ropes for training aids). We have agreed on the following criteria for acceptable materials:
– Materials used must be stable and not degrade or release toxins into the environment (No plastics, rubber tires, electronics, etc)
– Materials should be chosen which provide high amounts surface area/texture, caves, holes, etc. (concrete, porcelain, clay, limestone, plaster, etc)
– Materials should be long lasting and should integrate into the natural environment
– Materials should apply with proper safety regulations
– Recycling is encouraged as long as aesthetics and safety considerations are followed


Expense Cost Prefabricated Concrete Components 1,000,000 Shipping and Delivery 100,000 Bolts, anchors, connectors, etc. 60,000 Cement/materials for dive school’s additions 250,000 Marketing/Printing 10,000 Island based Labor 95,000 Mooring Lines 20,000 Lift Bags/dive tanks 35,000 Boats/tanks for divers Donated by Schools Divers to assemble Volunteer Total 1,570,000


Proposals for funding of this project are being submitted to the DMCR, PADI International, and Scuba Schools International. Additionally, as a community project, we hope to fund this project largely through money raised here on the island from local businesses, residents, and tourists. Local businesses could pay to ‘adopt’ a structure, they would be able to choose if they just want their name or logo on it, or if they want to assist or be responsible for construction and design. This would not only provide for the financial support of the project but also contribute to the amount of long-term participation and involvement from local residents; increasing awareness, and promoting stewardship and responsibility for the fate of the site. Other fundraising methods include: Fundraising events, donation bins, donations from schools, grants, and sponsorships.


The following criteria should be used for selecting the underwater location for this project:
• Water quality should be conducive to coral growth
• Coral health, fish abundance, and invertebrate diversity in the area should be closely evaluated and monitored before construction begins
• Sandy/rubble bottom composition is ideal when constructing artificial reefs as coral would normally not be successful if settling on unstable substrates and the site provides structure.
• The site should be built in close proximity to the island’s dive schools to encourage its use.
• Depth between 5-18 meters to accommodate both novice and advanced divers
• The area should be attractive on its own or contain interesting natural features to ensure customer satisfaction.
After evaluating locations around the island and keeping the above considerations in mind, we have chosen (along with the DMCR) to construct this project in Ao Leuk Bay. The site will consist of a minimum of 8 separate structures, one main structure at the deepest depth (16m) of the site, and 7 satellite structures leading up to 8 m depth to increase the size and duration of dives at the site.


The site will be closely monitored and researched by members of the Save Koh Tao Marine Branch. The following is a list of possible research parameters that can be evaluated on a long term basis:
• Diver/reef contact incidences
• Recovery rate or ecosystem development in current popular teaching areas after the construction of the site.
• Coral growth/recruitment on and around the site
• Species recruitment on and around the site
• Fish aggregation/spawning
• Diver satisfaction/impressions (both instructors and students)
• Costs to benefits analysis for both reef value and costs to the dive schools/instructors
• Community awareness assessment


April 2010: Compile initial project proposal and material list, begin developing fundraising plan
May 2010: Submit proposal to the Save Koh Tao Group, Ob-Bor-Tol, and DMCR for approval, decide project theme, begin fundraising/grant applications
June 2010: Revise project proposal if needed, solidify participant list, site surveys,
begin ordering prefabricated design components
July 2010: Finsh designs/ordering of materials
Aug. 2010: Site mapping, Mooring Buoy Installation, construction of decorations for the site made by dive schools
Sept. 2010: Deployment/sinking at site, construction of site
Oct-Dec 2010:Allow site to settle through the monsoon season
Jan. 2011: Assess the site and make repairs as needed, begin transplanting broken/damaged coral fragments onto the site as they become available
Ongoing: Continue to monitor and take data on the site and perform maintenance or refine techniques as needed.
Asses project feasibility and success for the planning of future projects.
Publish information for the use of other groups conducting similar projects

3 Responses to “Artificial Wreck of Koh Tao”

  1. After having destroyed the few corals around Koh Tao the Diving industry lobby comes up using community funds for sinking concrete into the ocean. Well done Koh Tao Community while electricity, water, sewage and roads need desperately attention. Who is making the decisions and who is profiting if there are 1.5 Million to be spend?

  2. […] more: Artificial Wreck of Koh Tao Thailand | Sailing Thailand INFO By admin | category: PRINCE OF SONGKLA | tags: assistance, coastal, coastal-resources, […]

  3. […] from: Artificial Wreck of Koh Tao Thailand | Sailing Thailand INFO Tags: cement, dive, Dive School, dive-tanks, labor, marketing, mooring, mooring-lines, result, […]

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