How do you build a flower that you can plant on the bottom of the sea?
Our first flower was built mainly to test our new techniques. It is a flower with twelve leafs attached in three layers. The sterns was made using steel tubes while the leafs and the flower head were made with rebar steel, chicken wire and concrete. The whole system is designed to be modular.
The first question is of course: where do we find the materials for a flower?
Devrim, owner of dive school New Heaven, introduced us to his supplier. A Thai who does not always feel comfortable dealing with Farang (“white people”). Hij does not set one foot from the island, but he delivers faster than Amazon! Order (and pay) now, and you will receive your products within the hour. Our orders are delivered per salang: a scooter with a sidecar. We have ordered materials from him several times already and our relation is starting to improve.
Where do you find all the necessary materials without a Home Depot close by?
We had to purchase some necessities such as gloves, pliers, welding materials etc. Luckily there are some hardware stores on the island, but quality stuff is hard to find. For example, we had bought a set of pliers to cut chicken wire. The cheapest set was already rusting in the package, so we went for one that was a little bit more expensive. The label even said “Professsional”. It cost about $3. The next day we started working with it. After three successful cuts the pliers decided it was enough. Vera pinched and pinched and then… The handle broke off. Limited warranty, but we were able to make a deal with the owner for a better set. This said has survived our abuse for over a month already!
Safety is a relative term!
Thai use other safety norms than what we may be used to. We try to keep our Dutch standards. Tough shoes, long trousers, welding mask, a first-aid kit sponsored by BHV-Training Zeeland etc. Thai uses shorts, safety flipflops and sometimes sunglasses for eye protection. But only sometimes.
How do you deal with the heat?
The Save Koh Tao workshop is not a climate controlled factory hall filled with coffee machines and all that western stuff. No, it’s just an open space underneath some palm trees with several small shelters to store your stuff. Because of the heat, we usually start at around 7 am in the workshop. We work till about 2 pm, followed by a lunch in a local restaurant. Afterwards we cycle downhill to take a shower and do some administrative work on our laptop.
The first step is the hardest. We started by making the leafs. We first built a leafshape using rebar steel, which was delivered in rods of about 30 feet. And then you find out some things are not as easy as they look. We took about 20 minutes for our first cut! That’s just one cut with a large bolt cutter through one piece of steel of just 1 cm (0.4″) thick… After a lot of practice we are now at the point where we can do one cut in less than halve a minute. And not because I ate too many Thai curries. 😉
Once the rods are cut, they need to be bend into the right shape. A task that is not easy in the Thai heat.
Can we do something with Dutch traditional holiday gifts?
The new techniques are designed to use less concrete than is usually the case in artificial reefs. We have based it on the ancient method of papier-mâché that is nowadays used a lot in Dutch holiday gifts for children to hide the actual gifts. Instead of newspapers and wallpaper paste we use concrete and sheets. A call for old sheets was answered better than we could hope for. Our generous sponsor remains anonymous, but we want to thank him or her through this update!
Once the leafs have the correct shape, they are covered in chicken wire. We have three types of wire to see if there are any differences in performance.
We also use different ratios of cement and sand in our concrete, to test what ratios work best with the sheets and chicken wire. And of course to see what combinations work best with our new Coral Aid system to provide the best substrate for corals to grow on.
More holiday icons in the mix!
To make the flower modular, we use the same principle as our artificial Christmas tree (yes we know, nothing’s better than a real, living tree. But that’s not the point). The artificial tree has branches equipped with a metal hook that can be pushed into a holder on the tree trunk.
We make the trunk or stern with four pipes that we weld together. On those pipe we attach the connecting hooks for the leaves. We bought those pipes per 20 feet. And we only need 1/2 feet pieces. We don’t have an electric saw of any kind and we don’t feel comfortable sawing them all by hand. That would take too much time. Vera is clever enough to ask some Thai working close by to cut the steel for us with their saw table and they accept! A couple of beers are cheaper than an electric saw :-).
We also learn that it is really easy to burn a hole in a steel pipe when welding. Where’s the teacher to explain to us what we should do better?
How do you prevent steel from rusting under water?
The whole flower will be connected to our Coral-Aid system. This system puts a small voltage on our structure which is supposed to trigger the deposition of calciumcarbonate on the metal, a perfect substrate for corals because coral skeletons are made of the same material. The additional benefit is that it prevents the rusting of the steel.
We now have three leaves (three types of chicken wire) free of sheets and concrete, so that we can study the effects of calcium deposition and see which type of wire works best. Chad Scott from Marine Conservation Koh Tao gives some additional tips on how to improve the structural integrity of the design and finally the flower is finished!
In the next update we will show you how we have planted our flower, so check our site regularly!