Recycled Bottle reef restoration of coral reefs

TRACC volunteers have been busy on our bottle reef restoration efforts by making bottle reefs to extend the ribbon reefs on Pom Pom Island. The North Tip ribbon reef is 150m long and the challenge for 2016 is to make it a double row of bottle reefs so that it grows more corals and supports more biodiversity.  The coral growth on the reefs will also help to slow the wave erosion of the beach and improve turtle conservation by ensuring that there is enough sand to lay their eggs.

Donated bottles for recycling into reefs
Donated bottles for recycling into reefs

We were lucky enough in late 2015 to get donations of money to buy cement and a big pile of bottles delivered to the island so we have lots to recycle.  Thank you Coralcare and BGS divers.

The bottle and ribbon reefs built in 2015 are doing very well but we continue to work hard on maintenance of reefs on steep slopes.

recycled bottle reef restorationThe bottle reef restoration start to take shape when the volunteers and gapyear travellers mix wet cement and then position the bottles.  The cement is strong 48h later and the reefs can be moved out into the ocean for a period of soaking to remove toxins.  Eventually we plant corals on the bottle reefs either from fragments grown in the coral nursery or from large branches collected from blast fishing or anchor damage sites.

bottle reef restoration in wet cement
Making bottle reefs from wet cement

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Reef conservation on steep sloping rubble.

Pom Pom Island has a steep slope from the reef crest to the deep water dropoff at a depth of around 50m.  All this slope has been seriously blasted in the past by bomb fishermen.  All that is left of the original reef are the rubble fragments on a seriously sloping reef.  The reef conservation efforts of TRACC volunteers has increased the biodiversity but the structures are difficult to stabilise.

coral reef conservation
Step reef with spikes to hold it into place. It is easy to see how steep the rubble slope is

The TRACC reef conservation for 2015 was generally excellent with amazing successes.  Our coral growth techniques which work well on flat areas of seabed (Bottle & Ribbon reefs) were modified to create step reefs aimed to create small reefs on the steep slopes.  These look great initially but too many of them are unstable and deteriorate rapidly.  While the corals grow and the fish live on the step reefs we create, unfortunately the slope continues to win and changes all the reefs we create.    A beautiful series of steps fixed solidly to the seabed, becomes a tumbled mess after turtles scratch and fish dig.

Coral reef restoration
Corals growing well on step reefs which are stable.
biscuis growing on step reefs 15-6-15 (1) (800x600)
Stable step reefs are ideal for coral growth.

We have tried spikes into the seabed to hold the structure in place but the rubble flows down from above and covers the steps.  We have tried interlocking the steps and the whole structure moves down the slope as a unit.  We have tried creating curved amphitheatres but after 12 months the structure looks like an ancient roman ruin.

coral reef restoration
A step reef tumbled by turtles. All of the bottles were embedded in the rubble slope but the scratching of many large turtles has dislodged and strewn many of the bottle reefs.

After much trial and error,  we are gradually refining a coral rubble reef conservation system which seems to be stable.  We are stabilising the rubble with soft coral nets which slows the rubble movement and the turtles do not destroy.  We are then creating Basket reefs which are more stable than the step reefs and have not yet been tumbled by the turtles.  The Basket reefs attract a lot of small fish and are stable enough to remain in place for the long time that it takes to grow hard corals.

Lots of our reef conservation for 2015 techniques work well, hopefully by the end of 2016, we will have also found the best system to stabilise steep rubble slopes.  Wish us luck 🙂

old step reef & netting (3) (800x600)
The 2015 version of a reef restoration system for steep rubble slopes. Netting planted with soft corals and sponges to hold the rubble above the interlocking step reefs.

Coral Biscuits

Coral nursery.  –  Hanging nursery  –  Platform Nursery

Step reefs   –  Step reef version 2  – building step reefs

Bottle reefs  –  Ribbon reefs

Crate reefs

Igloo reefs

Tyre reefs

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Student projects 2016

Students regularly visit TRACC to collect data for a graduate or masters degree project.  Art or science – if you are passionate about ocean issues then we have intern positions for a wide range of backgrounds. Marine conservation is often about communication and artists, photographers and media students can all become extraordinary advocates for ocean issues.  Each year, we support a few students to become useful interns to do some great science or art.

Photographing rare biodiversity such as this nudibranch (sea slug) requires a commitment to night diving.
Photographing rare biodiversity such as this nudibranch (sea slug) requires a commitment to night diving.

Have you got what it takes?  🙂

We have a range of projects in 2016,  from fish surveys to reef restorationcoral planting techniques, Stabilising rubble, optimising growth of coral species, impact of El Nino, climate change impacts on reefs, Turtles,  Sharks, rays, Humphead wrasse, anemone fish reproduction, biodiversity.  Other projects are possible such as the art installation #biggestsharkinborneo.  What are your interests?

#biggestsharkinborneo hammerhead shark on beach
Biggest shark in Borneo is a hammerhead shark artwork to raise awareness.

Art, media or communication interns please contact us with a formal presentation of ideas.

reef crest survey
reef crest survey

Generally our science intern requirements are practical in nature:

  • Can it be done in 12 -16 weeks.
  • Does it have a hypothesis?
  • Does it follow scientific method?
  • What is the control variable?
  • How discrete is the experimental variable?
  • Random or structured experimental design?
  • Is the project safe?
  • Etc.  Etc. Etc.
  • Has the student really thought about this?

Most student projects start with a 4 week volunteering experience to gain experience and dive qualifications.  When you have a month of doing underwater work under supervision from our staff then you will move to doing your own things safely with minimal supervision.  We like people doing independent projects to be Rescue diver qualified.  (read why here).

We expect a scientifically viable proposal, background research, strong commitment to the project,  regular written reports, Photos and video, several presentations to others at the camp and a copy of the final report as submitted to your university.  We don’t consider a research project a holiday, it may be fun but there is significant work involved if it is going to be worthwhile.  A scientific internship requires investment by TRACC in your future,  There is a lot of competition.  Are you worth our effort?

Mangrove studies
Mangrove studies

To stand out from the crowd:  Don’t simply send us a CV.   Send us a one page (max) project draft based on what you care about, what you can see is happening in the world of marine science or conservation, in our blog or on our facebook & twitter pages.

To learn about the experience – please look at the blog posts from ex students.  See what they did, they may even write about what went wrong.  Contact them on social media and ask for advice.  Be polite and they will help.

Marine science course cambridge a level
Rocky shore exploration

Ten facts to know about becoming a marine biologist

How to get a job in Marine Conservation.

Return of fish to Pom Pom Island

TRACC has been working on Pom Pom Island for 5 years and the change in fish life has been amazing. More Species
More Individuals
Bigger fish – often reproductive sizes

Our big fish surveys document what all our returning divers can see with their own eyes.

Large fish survey on Pom Pom Island 2011-2015
Large fish survey on Pom Pom Island 2011-2015

Who can ask for more?  The numbers of fish of all large species is definitely increasing.

We have resident schools of Barracuda, Big eye trevally, and fusiliers as well as a myriad smaller fish species.  The eagle rays are really special and coral cat sharks can be seen on night dives and our 2016 save sharks project should increase the numbers and species of sharks seen.

Definitely enough fish all around the island to sustain a small shark population so we can protect them before they are all killed.

Baby sharks for sale in the Kudat fish market 2014
Baby sharks for sale in the Kudat fish market 2014


Marine Conservation efforts 2016

TRACC works on various aspects of coral reef ecosystem conservation. For 2016/7, we have ongoing projects on:-

Reef restoration
Our main project, we are growing and replanting coral to repair reefs.
Community conservation of coral reefs.  (Poster pdf)
Step reefs on steep slopes.  (PRESENTATION pdf)

reef conservation and repair
branching porites hard coral growing over a bottle reef

Turtles in the NE Semporna Islands
A day in the life of a turtle volunteer
Turtle walk anyone

Save sharks
Buy a shark and save it.
Are there any sharks left? (With Shark Stewards).
Protected area for sharks in Semporna (with Sabah Shark Protection Association)
Big fish and shark surveys.

Mabul shark and ray fishery (PDF-Poster)

Nurul Yazid biodiversity of pom pom island Sabah
Green turtles are common

Biodiversity project

Protection of endangered species
Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
Giant clams

Climate change
Coral reef projects relating to climate change.

Dive on Coral Reefs NOW, the future is Hot Sour and Empty.  PDF  —–  Presentation — Video

Environmental Education
Art  —   The biggest shark in Borneo
Community art environmental education

Marine science course cambridge a level
Survey diving

Marine protected area roadmap.

These are not exhaustive, contact us if you know how to save the oceans!

Proactive marine conservation with TRACC – Web version – PDF

Conservation projects to 2015  -Old website – not mobile friendly

Suggested student research projects

Visits to TRACC for divers, volunteers & visitors.

Main menu

Climate change projects

With the reef regeneration expertise that TRACC has developed we are in an ideal situation to do reef studies that monitor Climate change, ocean acidification and El Nino effects.

tracc volunteers and gapyear students on pom pom island semporna sabah malaysia
Anemonefish biodiversity is very high in the area and we have a large range of species on the house reef.  How will these react to climate change as the sea warms during the 2016 El Nino.

Coral Garden – Biodiversity project

Anemone fish biodiversity

Climate change coral nursery

Natural sponge reef planting

Soft coral rubble stabilisation

Teepee soft coral garden

Deep reef black coral forest

Coral biscuits

More info on general reef restoration here.  Sorry not yet mobile friendly :-()

Nurul Yazid biodiversity of pom pom island Sabah

Pajama Cardinal fish on branching porites.

Conservation projects 2016

Snorkelling & Turtle conservation

3 Diving & reef restoration

4 Diving Project activities

5 Conservation projects

6 Living at TRACC

Getting to here