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Saving Samui's Coral Reefs

It was five to twelve and tide was rising. Twelve volunteer swimmers were carrying a 7m by 4m steel structure into the water and they were not going to make it, the water was coming up too fast.

Only one week after the end of this annual festival promoting a green and clean Samui, the first Samui Mala project of the year was being launched with a Biorock ® installation off the coast at Ban Tai on Koh Samui.

ban thai villagers

Villagers and volunteers carry the steel structure down to the beach at Ban Thai Koh Samui

"We are anxious to get this in the water", said Thomas Sarkisian of Biorock. "We are expecting the rainy season by mid October, and we are not sure we'll have such good weather again for a while".

"There are a lot of elements working together to make this a successful project: the villagers, the divers, the technology, the weather, the local support from the tessabaan, the mala volunteers - and we really want it to work", said Shelley Poplak, Samui Mala coordinator.

Samui Mala's first commitment to focus on the environment three years ago was inspired by meeting Thomas from Biorock who made the connection between the green island and the blue seas, how they were totally dependent on each other. So this is not only symbolically Samui Mala's first project, it's also a way of coming home to its roots. "We've hosted the Samui Mala for three years now, and only ever talked about raising consciousness, education and we've done small educational projects for children before. But when local villagers approached Thomas Sarkisian of Biorock to install a structure to preserve their reef, we were sure this is a project we can support as a "living mala" concept as part of being proactive every day of the year, not just at events".

And in the end, divers from Dive Academy and ABC Divers, representing GIDOA (Green Island Dive Operators Association) took over from the swimmers, donned their scuba gear and successfully submerged this awkward frame around 100 meters from the shore.

By the end of the day, villagers had sorted out the electricity supply and Thomas was happy that the rig could be securely anchored over the next few days.

And it was time to eat: the installation inspired a festival atmosphere, with local families preparing a delicious massaman curry and serving tarot ice cream on sticky rice and everyone enjoying the brilliant beach weather together.

Thomas and Biorock Technology Thailand have been working for several years to offer a lifeline to Samui's coral reef. Based on technology developed by renowned marine scientist Dr. Tom Goreau, Biorock is an underwater support system built from ordinary construction steel. With successful new reefs already installed and growing in countries like Jamaica, America, Mexico, Venezuela, Seychelles, the Maldives and Bali, Biorock has proved itself as a simple and inexpensive solution to coral deprivation.

Biorock can be installed in any location, from the smallest, most remote island to huge stretches areas of damaged reef. If there is no welding equipment available, ready-made building mesh can be used or the structure can be wired together by hand. Once installed in the sea, battery chargers are attached to send a low-voltage current directly to the metal, and electrolysis then causes the minerals naturally present in seawater to build up. Biorock Technology Thailand is a pioneer project when it comes to Samui's marine recovery process and structures have been installed in a number of locations around the island and also off Koh Tao.

Representatives from Samui Mala plan to meet with Khun Surapong the deputy mayor to talk about signage and site protection issues, and also to discuss whether similar structures can be installed elsewhere on the island with local government support. Children from the island's schools may also be asked to join the project as monitors to watch the development of the reef as it grows.

With the island's marine environment under serious threat, Biorock offers both local fishermen and recreational divers a chance to make a positive contribution to the preservation of coral reefs that support the underwater ecosystem. With support from Biorock Technology Thailand, Samui Mala and GIDOA, Samui's reefs may still have a future.

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