New Heaven Reef Conservation
With the tagline ‘Our Ocean, Our Responsibility’, the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program was set up in 2007, with the primary goal of creating more environmentally aware divers… Divers who are not simply knowledgeable about marine life, but divers who are aware of multiple oceanic health indicators, the impacts of their own actions on the ecosystem, and ways to make a more positive contribution. The work of the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program focuses on three main areas:
Koh Tao translates to Turtle Island, and as we mentioned on our Koh Tao history page, many people attribute the name to the many turtles that would crawl up onto the beaches to lay their eggs back in the days when the island was not so heavily inhabited. Others believe the name comes from the shape of the island itself, which is said to resemble a turtle shell when viewed from above. One thing that is undeniable, however, is that for an island named after these majestic sea creatures, there’s not as many of them around as would be ideal. To this end, the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program is actively working towards increasing the turtle population in a healthy and sustainable way.
The team works in partnership with the DMCR (Department of Marine & Coastal resources) to raise hatchling turtles. Very few turtles make it to adulthood in the natural world – as little as 1 in every 10,000 in fact. So being able to raise, observe, and release turtles in a controlled and healthy environment is a great way to research and learn, and to boost the island’s Turtle population at the same time. Raising anything from 5-20 baby turtles each year, the team will typically release them when they get to around 25cm in length, where their size makes them much more likely to survive predation in the wild. Visitors are welcome to drop in to visit the turtles, and informative presentations and lectures are available on request.
Part of training the next generation divers includes ensuring they are as educated and knowledgeable about the marine world as possible. The New Heaven Reef Conservation Program runs a 2-3 month internship inclusive of over 24 different presentations, and a whole heap of diving and monitoring in between. Shorter courses in distinct specialty areas are also available.
During the internship and various conservation courses, divers conduct multiple reef surveys and are taught to collect and analyse data to assess the well-being of coral, fish populations, and general indicators of good/bad health across a broad spectrum of species in the marine environment. This results in the creation of passionate divers who are much more aware of various underwater phenomena, are more acutely aware of their impacts and have an active desire in working towards reducing them.
Thailand Whale Sharks
What began in 2018 as an initiative to identify whale sharks right here in the Gulf of Thailand has quickly expanded to a nationwide project. Whale sharks are at the top of every divers wish list of things to see underwater when they go diving on Koh Tao. Yet so little is known about them in terms of numbers, their breeding habits, and migration routes.
By tracking whale shark sightings, the hope is to build a portfolio of data and learn more about whale sharks and their habits. Divers are encouraged to submit their whale shark photos for identification so the New Heaven team can use them for identification and tracking. The ideal and preferred image is a shot of the left side of the shark, including all markings between the gills and dorsal fin. Other photos are also very welcome, however, and can still be helpful. All the team needs is a photo, the name of the dive site where it was taken, and the year the photo was taken (so even backdated photos can be useful!). So far since they started, of nearly 300 recorded whale shark sightings, over 260 have been identified as different individuals, which is incredibly exciting.
If you are lucky enough to see a whale shark on your Koh Tao dive course or fun diving trip, you can submit your photos onto the Thai Whale Sharks or Koh Tao Whalesharks Facebook pages. If you’d like any further information about any aspects of the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program, please contact [email protected]