By Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Paul Adams
June 2012 marked the final year of a five-year longitudinal study of the reefs near Phuket, Thailand by students at Concordia International School Shanghai led by Mr. Terry Umphenour.
Each year Concordia students are offered the opportunity to join an ongoing Marine Ecology program at the end of the school year. They learn how to scuba dive (PADI Open Water), continue onto Advanced Open Water, and then move onto the Reef Check EcoDiver course. If they are a returning student, they are offered Dive Specialties and Rescue Diver training along with a Reef Check refresher class. Over the past five years, over 50 students have participated in the program with many returning year after year.
The diving coursework begins 6-8 months prior to the actual study with theory and pool sessions during the evenings and weekends in Shanghai. Although students must finance the courses themselves, they are offered to them at cost about once every week by Joel Klammer and Paul Adams, PADI and Reef Check instructors.
Once the trip starts, students are reminded of the importance of their work to collect valuable information on the marine ecosystem around Racha Yai, a small island frequented by tourists off the coast of Phuket.
The students witnessed firsthand the coral bleaching event that took place in 2010 and the continued decline of the reefs in the area. This year they saw a great recovery of the hard corals; however, they also saw the impacts of careless practices by boats in the area. They witnessed anchor damage on their permanent transect line as a speedboat carrying snorkelers dropped its anchor on the line while the students were taking data!
Concordia students conducted 12 surveys over two days at depths of three and six meters. Most dives were up to 90 minutes in length as the students carefully, but thoroughly, performed the surveys during early morning, midday, and afternoon.
Concordia made a five year commitment in 2008 to the reef at Racha Yai. This year marked the final year for this particular site but not the end of the program. Continued efforts are underway to identify a new area in Southeast Asia to continue the study by students. Contact Joel Klammer or Paul Adams if you would like more information.