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Marlas Mystery - the first artificial reef in Thailand.

The creation of the first Artficial Reef in Phuket, Thailand.
I am standing on the deck of a boat on the Andaman Sea. Two friends are with me; all is still and peaceful with the full moon shining overhead. Suddenly, the calm sea that has been noiselessly filling our boat comes pouring in over the gunwales and everything starts happening very, very quickly. November 11th 2000, a night to remember…

This story really begins in 1989 when I made the first of hundreds of SCUBA dives at Raya Island located south of Phuket Thailand. In the subsequent years I continued to enjoy and marvel at the incredible beauty of the underwater environment that I was privileged to be a part of.

As is too often the case this very beauty spelled trouble- more and more divers were coming to Raya and it has become the busiest dive location close to Phuket. These large numbers of divers were certainly having an impact on the tranquillity of what had been and I began to wonder what could be done to lend a hand to the Island to help accommodate these new visitors.

It seemed an obviously thing to do would be to create new dives sites slightly apart from what was now being dived. This would help relieve diver congestion and create new habitats for marine life. The underwater topography of Raya suited this idea perfectly as the sea bottom is sandy, sloping gently away from the island. I even managed to find a large area of coral rubble- all that was left of a reef that had been destroyed by dynamite fishing. Now the plan was clearly in my mind.

The hull of a confiscated smuggling boat had been lying abandoned in a Phuket shipyard for years. This was a big boat, 34 meters long, and everything removable was long gone leaving behind a sterile and environmentally friendly potential artificial reef. A fair bit of work was involved patching the vessel for her final voyage, 15 years of shipyard fees paid and we were finally ready.

The timing had worked out perfectly as the November full moon and the loveliest of Thai festivals, Loy Kratong, was fast approaching. This would be my chance to make an offering to the spirit of the Underwater Kingdom, although my “kratong” wouldn’t be floating for long!

Chris, Jessie and I are standing on the stern of “Marla’s Mystery” clad in SCUBA gear. It seems only proper that we escort her to her new home. The filling of the boat is a slow silent, process and we have plenty of time for speculation of what is about to happen. The bow appears to be sinking first; hence we are at the stern. Torches are switched off; the moon will supply all the illumination we need.

As the sea pours in over the gunwales the bow of the boat rises up in the air in classic style, rapidly submerging the stern, and us, for our ride to the bottom. There is no turning back now! We are being sucked down with the boat; the vortices produced have me going fins over head just like being in a washing machine. On the first revolution I sense our support vessel that has been sucked over the sinking boat- sure hope they don’t panic, start the engine and turn the propeller! Now going down again- make sure to clear my ears. Had been having some ear problems of late; this might hurt. Now going up again, no pain, looks like clearing has been successful. Now going down, as helpless as any other piece of plankton adrift in the ocean. How deep are we going? I reassure myself that we are exactly at the chosen location and the bottom will be where we expect. Next thought- is there any chance that I will somehow get sucked under the boat and then crushed like a bug? Hadn’t thought of that before! A quick reassurance, the boat is dropping much too fast; I will never get caught underneath.

Suddenly there is a loud THUD as the boat crashes into the bottom and my washing machine cycle is over. I turn on my torch and find myself in the middle of a dust storm as the fine sand thrown up by the impact slowly settles. Two other torch beams are close by and we find ourselves on the deck of the boat. Tentative OK signals are exchanged and when the reality of the situation sinks in High 5’s and squeals of delight christen the new reef. A glance at our computers shows the 30 meter ride to the bottom as taken slightly less than a minute.

I visited Marla’s Mystery just the other day (20-07-04) and had a delightful dive, as always. The bat fish came up to say hello and the regal looking lion fish peacefully drifted about. The large amount of fishing line inside the boat attests to its popularity as a fishing spot. Two more anchors have appeared at the bow of the boat and will soon be joining my collection. Scattered on the bottom around the boat are the remains of trawl nets; illegal to use this close to the Island. Raya now has a strong defence on her eastern flank! Throughout the dive a sea turtle contentedly rested on the deck. We made eye contact- was he saying “job well done?”.

About the Author: Mike is the owner of Scuba Cat Diving, Phuket's most complete dive center. We are a long established PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre located in Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand. Since opening in 1992, we have become one of the most popular and certainly the most complete scuba diving center in Phuket.

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