It started a couple of years ago as a dream. What if we quit our jobs in the Netherlands and dedicate our lives to protecting and restoring coral reefs full-time? After talking with our family, friends, and people who have experience with starting a business abroad, we began our journey. Our dream was beautifully visualized by Zes x Zes.

Artist impression from our dream: the CoralGarden
Artist impression from our dream: the CoralGarden

In May 2016 we took a giant leap, we gave up our house, and moved to Thailand. To start a new project is not easy. Things may go differently than expected, things might go wrong. Other things take much longer than you anticipated. On the other hand, you get help from unexpected sources and the most wonderful people!

Thanks to many donations, sponsors, and volunteers we built an artificial reef on Koh Tao! Here is an overview of what we accomplished together.

Koh Tao Thailand from above


The CoralGarden is built in Hin Wong Bay south, the GPS location is: 10°06’04″N – 99°50’59″E

Hin Wong Bay

The artificial reef structures of the CoralGarden are deployed on an empty patch of sand in Hin Wong Bay. There was not much marine life in this area, though there are healthy coral reefs nearby.

The empty sand patch where the CoralGarden is built, picture taken on October 29, 2016.

It total we created ten flowers, one pair of hands, and one tree. We gave each of the flowers a name based on the top portion of the flower. Between the flowers and the natural reef, we deployed bottle nurseries, to create a path for fish to migrate to the new habitat. The flowers and tree are designed for marine life and as structures to accommodate the transplantation of corals. The hands are made for divers, to practice their buoyancy control. Here is a map of the CoralGarden:

Map of the CoralGarden

We have learned a lot during the building of the CoralGarden. In 2015 we deployed a test flower in Hin Fai, which was connected to the Biorock structure of NHRCP, to test new ideas about how to use new materials. This flower is doing great, but the conditions in Hin Wong Bay are completely different. So a couple of flowers were having a difficult time. We had to alter our design to deal with the rough weather conditions and different bacteria in the soil.

Here is the CoralGarden!

Flower 1

The first flower was deployed on November 17, 2016. Anchoring in Hin Wong Bay is forbidden, however this flower was severely damaged due to an anchor that was dropped onto it. The flower was removed on September 30, 2018 and most materials of the artificial reef structure that were taken out were re-used in the Turtle Flower and the Treecycle.

The flower looked really nice when it was deployed under water. Photo Matt Metcalf
CoralGardening puts first flower in ocean.

Flower 2 – Double Stone Flower

The second flower was deployed on May 28, 2017. When flower 1 was removed from the ocean we added the top of flower 1 to this flower, and that gave her the name Double Stone Flower.

Flower 2, when it was deployed, with only one top.
Planting the 2nd flower in the CoralGarden on EcoDay May 28, 2017
The flower is overgrown with marine life. Also a lot of small fish have found a new habitat to inhabit.

Flower 3 – Broken Stone Flower

On June 30, 2017, we deployed our third flower. This flower was moved close to the reef during the monsoon season of 2017-2018. Parts that served no function in providing habitat were removed. Relocation of the flower is not possible as the flower is stuck in the sand.

The flower when it was deployed.
EcoDay June 30, 2017 Flower 3 in CoralGarden
Flower 3 had been moved to a rock by a heavy monsoon and forced us to alter our design.
A couple of petals lost their skin, due to the conditions in Hin Wong Bay.

Flower 4 – Multiple Leaf Flower

On the same day as flower 3 (June 30, 2017), we deployed flower 4. Instead of scuba divers, this flower is assembled by freedivers only. They had to go up and down many times before the flower was assembled under water. Their comments and big smiles afterwards were all the same: “Fantastic, but oh so tiring!”

This is the first flower with our new design. The top, a flower with little petals, symbolizes the growth of new life.

This flower was assembled by freedrivers only. Photo Jana Tommová
CoralGardening planting flower 4 with comments of the participating freedivers
Corals grow really well on this flower!
The small fragments we put on the flower, have become very big.

Flower 5 – Single Leaf Flower

On July 28, 2017 we deployed this flower. The top is one single leaf and symbolizes that life begins with one single seed.

The dive team with the new flower.
Less coral than we expected grew on this flower.
We still are researching the possible causes. Photo Ian Zucker

Flower 6 – Fractured Earth Flower

On September 28, 2017 we planted the “Fractured Earth Flower.” The top symbolizes the two possible directions we can go as society: “business as usual” and pollute and destroy the world in which we all live, or to live in harmony with our planet.

Which direction do you want our society to go?
Divers create an artificial reef on EcoDay September 2017
Fish love this flower, recently we also saw a porcupine fish living in its base! Photo Ian Zucker

Flower 7 – Heart Flower

The “Heart Flower” is designed for easy attachment of corals in the ropes. It went in the water on March 29, 2018. The assembly of this flower was performed with top speed thanks to the teamwork of mostly dive professionals involved.

Dive team who deployed the “Heart Flower.”  Photo Michael Sebastian South
EcoDay March 2018, Kid coral games and artificial reef
Coral grows well on this flower. Photo Ian Zucker

Flower 8 – Kid’s Flower
This flower got its name, because the top of the flower is designed by kids (4-13 years) from Koh Tao Playskool. They participated in a lecture about coral reefs, played fun educational games and in the afternoon they created the top portion of this flower. The flower was deployed on May 6, 2018.

The young kids enjoyed being part of the construction of an artificial reef.
Deploying artificial reef in the CoralGarden on Koh Tao
The kid’s flower after one year. Photo Ian Zucker

Hands 1 – Thai Wai Hands

Our biggest challenge while building the CoralGarden was the pair of hands for divers to swim through. The hands are 3 meter tall and were assembled under water on July 29, 2018.

We put our hands together to thank Koh Tao’s community, and its conservation efforts. We designed the Thai Wai Hands to thank everyone on Koh Tao that is and has been involved with conservation efforts for their commitment: Koh Tao Municipality, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Chad Scott, who founded the New Heaven Reef Conservation Project, Get Involved and many other projects, businesses and persons who every day make choices to do good for Koh Tao and our common planet.

Practice your buoyancy skills on the Thai Wai Hands. Photo Lee Jellyman
CoralGardening puts Hands together on Koh Tao
Fish living at the Hands. Photo Ian Zucker

The hands are specially made for divers to practice their buoyancy. For that reason we didn’t transplant corals onto it. But that doesn’t mean that fish and corals don’t like to live in the hands. Recently we saw a natural coral recruit growing on one of the pinkies. We are looking forward to seeing what the future will bring to the hands.

Flower 9 – Turtle Flower

The Turtle Flower or also known as “Tao Nadia.” Nadia means “hope” in Thai language. As one of the last flowers installed on March 18, 2019, we hope that the CoralGarden will grow nicely and stay safe and healthy.

Nadia in the open sea. Photo Josh
We have transplanted some coral onto it,
now we have to wait and see how it will develop. Photo Ian Zucker

Tree 1 – Treecycle

This tree contains the materials that were left over from the creation of the other structures, to create new life with remaining material. The tree put his roots in the seabed on March 20, 2019.

Treecycle. Photo Josh
It is beautiful to see all the fish living in and around the tree,
They would have little chance to survive on the sandy bottom
of Hin Wong Bay without shelter.
Photo Ian Zucker

Flower 10 – Hammerhead Flower

Deployed on March 22, 2019, to attract people to the CoralGarden with the promise to see a Hammerhead Shark! 🙂

We didn’t transplant corals on this flower, to see the difference between the other flowers and how quickly nature will take over this structure.
Full day of eco activities with Aqua Tao
A real hammerhead on Koh Tao! Photo Ian Zucker

Bottle nurseries

Bottle nurseries are a quick and easy way to restore coral reefs, with as little material as possible. They are mostly used to insert branching corals into. This fast growing coral will overgrow the bottle nurseries itself. The nurseries were deployed between August 2017 and April 2019.

Branching coral grows well in a bottle nursery! Photo Anna Pesonen

Donate to CoralGardening to be part of our new project!

Donate to CoralGarden to be part of our new project!

Video of CoralGarden, coming soon.
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