He couldn’t remember the last time that he had worked so physically hard, he was not even sure that he ever had. The first week had been hell when almost everything ached, but as the second week started there was a flip-flop in his mind and condition. Suddenly new chemicals were flowing through his body and mind bringing a vicarious pleasure to the extreme exercise.
He had volunteered to assist with the post-tsunami effort in Thailand; this was for the 2004 event which still needed lots of support. He had contacted some people he knew in the United Nations Development Programme, who were running the Reef Recovery and Rehabilitation Project in the Similian Islands of Thailand.
The UNDP had arranged for him to meet someone from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resource at Phuket where he had learned that the early efforts to clear the debris, washed from the land on to the delicate coral ecosystem, were still under way. His offer of assistance found him allocated to the Similian Islands.
Fortunately the early reports that the local coral reefs had sustained 75% damage proved a huge exaggeration. It was nearer 15% but even this needed to be resolved before the next monsoon which would add further destruction to the weakened corals.
Their particular project was to try to save some amazing fan corals, many were over a metre in diameter. There were a dozen divers on Tom’s boat and a three-man crew, one of whom doubled as their cook. The divers were mostly volunteer recreational divers. Teams of four each dived four times a day, resting, eating and sleeping as best they could. The teams stayed aboard for two weeks at a time.
No one had ever tried to do what they were attempting – to rehabilitate so damaged a coral reef. Tom loved the fact that it was therefore all about using their ingenuity to come up with solutions. Earlier teams had disposed of the debris – corrugated iron sheets, beach parasols, restaurant menus and utensils, identity cards, clothes, shoes, bottles and crates of unopened beers and soft drinks, even kitchen sinks…
They were now able to concentrate on the coral colonies themselves; they found many of the corals that had been knocked over and partially covered with silt.
Initially they had simply righted some of the corals and used local rocks and debris to try to anchor them, but the various teams were trying all sorts of novel approaches. One approach Tom had come up with was to insert nails into the bases of the coral and then fix these to rocks. Tom had recalled that in his childhood he had done something similar with a Lugger falcon that he had been training. It had been committed and was therefore too late in pulling out of a stoop after a very speedy leveret. It had therefore crashed into the top of a hedgerow and damaged several of its primary feathers. Tom had reconnected the tips with a small pin and they had been fully restored as the pin rusted in place.
Others had similar ideas and were attaching small colonies to rebar metal netting, there were even corals being lifted from the water and glued to rocks before being reintroduced to the water. Nobody knew whether any of this would work, but it was clear that the monsoons would wreak havoc on the weakened corals if they didn’t harness them in some manner.
It was hard physical work, fortunately not at very great depths, but constant. So as he came ashore he planned not to be too long at the bar with his team wanting instead to make his way back to the small tented area they were using and to crash out.