Healthy signs of coral recovery are being wittnessed at many of the dive sites in the Similan Islands Marine National Park. Relatively cool water temperatures (28°-29°C) have been recorded from January 2012 to January 2013 resulting in rapid growth of many species of coral.

In May 2010 the shallow coral reefs fringing the Similan Islands were devasted by prolonged high water temperatures which caused coral bleaching on an unprecedented scale. By June that year the cooling rains that typify the start of Thailand’s rainy season still had not arrived leaving vast areas of reefs dead with little hope of recovery.

Although evidence of the coral bleaching is still clear to see, closer inspection reveals new growth at all depths. New coral colonies can be seen forming on granite rocks as shallow as five meters deep and dead coral structures appear to be emerging back to life as new polyps take hold and grow where their predecessors left off.

Amongst the fastest growing types are purple soft corals (Dendronephthya hemprichi), Green cup coral (Tubastraea micrantha) and numerous staghorn corals and table corals species.

new-hard-and-soft-coral-growth

New soft and hard coral growth at ‘Breakfast Bend’ dive site in the Similan Islands

In November 2012, Thailand Dive and Sail conducted dives in the Similan Islands with three biologists from Germany, they were amazed by the amount and speed of the new coral growth revealing the natural productivity of the Andaman Sea.

Notable dive sites with the highest amount of new coral growth are at Christmas Point, situated to the north west of Island Nine and at Elephant Head Rock, situated of the southern tip of Island Eight.

One thing is clear, the Similan dive sites have a much healthier appearance than the 2011/2012 Thailand dive season. Hopefully this young and fragile trend will continue and the water temperature will remain constant allowing for the same growth rate for the next couple of years. More information about coral reef recovery can be found here.

Ric Parker