Return to Eden – Similan Dive Site ‘East of Eden’ Up-date February 2013

Park rangers from Similan Island Four announced today that Similan dive site ‘East of Eden’ had been reopened to divers. The dive site was closed in late 2010 in response to the wide spread coral bleaching that had occurred between May and June earlier that year.

The announcement was low key and informal, simply conveyed by the rangers responsible for collecting park entrance fees from the Similan liveaboard boats.

When news of the May-June 2010 S.E. Asia coral bleaching finally came to the world’s attention in late November 2010, it was eagerly picked up by Thailand’s National press and the world’s media.

“The main factors causing the coral bleaching are the combined effects of global warming, which has raised the sea temperature by 1-2 degrees Celsius” said a spokesperson for the Mu Ko Similan National Park; emphasizing that a rise in temperatures is to blame and not an excess of human disruption.

For a week or so all eyes were turned to the Similan Marine National Park, one of Thailand’s highest grossing and most popular national parks. The National Park had to been seen to be doing something about it, but with natural events like coral bleaching there is nothing human intervention can do.

Seemingly at random the National Park announced the closure of two dive site, East of Eden and Beacon Reef,in order to replenish their health, even though there were reefs worse hit such as Breakfast Bend.

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A lot of publicity was made closing the two chosen sites, however, the media failed to pick up on the illegal longlines a short distance from the dive sites, possibly the main contributing factor to the deterioration of the national park wildlife.

Current Conditions at East of Eden

So just over two years later, how is East of Eden faring? Has the absence of divers had the desired effect the national park had hoped for?

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New soft corals adds a new shine to the Similan Islands

I can report there is a lot of new coral growth on most areas of East of Eden dive site

However, this is true for most dive sites in the Similan Islands, which have seen steady coral growth over the last twelve months. What was noticeable was the lack of damaged corals, especially on the main bommie. The absence of divers has at least allowed the coral to grow unmolested.

To the south of the dive site in an area known as the Japanese Gardens there are a lot of damaged fire corals (Heliopora coerulea), especially in the shallow areas above 5 metres in depth. Although there has been a two year ban on diving activities, snorkel boats have still been allowed to visit this area on a daily basis. The damaged corals are consistent with other areas where snorkel boats operate.

Approximately midway along the main section of the reef, a giant fan coral (Annella mollis) once dominated the scene. After the bleaching this fan was reduced to a few dead trunks. Two years on the fan coral is regrowing and will hopefully return to its magnificent original form.

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Given up for dead, this impressive seafan returns to life

Fish life at East of Eden seems to be unchanged, there are a multitude of reef fish but very few pelagic species were seen. Just a couple of Kuhl’s stingrays (Dasyatis kuhlii) resting in the sand near the main bommie.

Although ‘Emma’ the giant moray eel (Gymnothorax javanicus) died along time ago, another giant moray has taken up residence in her former lair, a large table coral which now lays upside down and covered in algae.

Many more dives will be needed to assess the full extent of recovery at East of Eden, but at least for now the site is open and will hopefully take the strain off other over dived sites around Similan Islands Four, Five and Seven.

East of Eden dive site description and photographs

Ric Parker

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