Shock Therapy: Bringing Thailand’s Coral Reefs Back to Life
Around the whole world coral reefs are facing disaster. As of 2017, Forbes described The Great Barrier Reef as being in the ‘terminal’ stages of its life. This is all from a direct result of the planet’s rising temperatures. Thailand’s coral reefs are no different, at risk of loss but scientists have found a shockingly creative solution.
We need to keep our coral reefs alive. Not only are they beautiful, incredible living things, they are responsible for producing almost half of the world’s oxygen, are home to a quarter of the world’s marine life and only take up 1% of the ocean floor. But they are in decline thanks to global warming. So what’s being done to help?
A Shocking Solution
First explored in the early 1970s, a technique was developed by a conservationist group called BioRock. Their plan was to test technology that was efficient, effective and low-cost. Since their work, a modern-day spin-off has been created in Koh Tao. Known as CoralAid, the system shows promise. In fact, it looks so effective that guides and plans have been put out for free to groups all over the world.
It works thanks to electricity. The coral itself isn’t shocked, so don’t expect any defibrillator style action to take place. Instead, a metal, grid-like structure is placed underwater and a current is run through it. The style of these structures isn’t strictly important, groups have had fun created metallic fish sculptures. In fact, with artist collaboration there are even some underwater displays around the world.
Corals are like plants, in so much that they take energy from the sun through a process called photosynthesis. When coral falls into poor condition it breaks off and ends up buried in the sand. Once it’s there, the sun’s rays cannot reach it and it completely dies off. Divers retrieve these pieces and attach them to the metal structures much like a mosaic sculptor would. Thanks to the way that coral asexually reproduces, a broken piece can completely regenerate given the right location and conditions.
Coral bleaching is the biggest issue. This is almost entirely due to global warming and rising sea temperatures. They also require a very specific pH level. Our oceans and seas absorb roughly 40% of the worlds carbon dioxide. As the amount of carbon dioxide rises, thanks to pollution etc, so does the acidity of the waters. Warmer waters and higher acidity means that coral shuts down and dies.
This is where CoralAid’s structure and electricity combo starts the magic. The small current running through the metal causes a reduction in acidity in the nearby water. This increases the coral’s growth as calcium carbonate (coral’s main component) thrives in alkaline conditions. After tests the scientists were also excited to see that coral not even in the immediate structure was benefitting from the process. They also attracted natural sea life and some animals displaced by reef destruction began to return.
How can you help Thailand’s coral reefs?
Coral, beautiful as it is, is best left alone. Some types of coral quickly die after being touched or stepped on. So, the best way to help is to be really careful during those snorkelling trips. Try your hardest not to step on them – especially because the stuff is razor sharp and covered in bacteria. Never break off any coral as a souvenir, it’s a living creature.
If you’re interested in learning more there are plenty of coral conservation offices around Thailand. The lead organisation for CoralAid is still stationed on Koh Tao but most beaches and coastal areas have some sort of office where you can learn more.