Thai Dive Sites Close To Protect Coral
CONFUSION and anger rippled through the Phuket and Andaman diving communities today in the wake of a hasty government decision to close many prime popular diving sites in seven marine parks.
The logic behind the closures eludes the dive companies, who do not see themselves as being responsible for the natural phenomenon of coral bleaching.
Many are now concerned that the ban on diving at 18 key sites in the seven marine parks – six along the Andaman coast – will simply lead to overcrowding at other popular spots that are in some cases outside marine parks.
Coral reefs off Phuket are popular but not included in the marine parks, so pressure is likely to grow at these sites to the point where some dive industry people believe they could be quickly destroyed.
A survey by Phuketwan today showed that the industry feels it has been made a scapegoat for the continuing failure of authorities to properly protect the reefs from illegal fishing and reef fish poachers.
One dive company owner, who preferred not to be named, said: ”Of course this will have a huge effect. But the coral reefs have bleached because of a natural occurrence. We dive deep to 18 metres or beyond.
”Have the researchers been down that deep? There’s no bleaching at that level. This is where the best-trained divers go. Yet they too are banned, and for no good reason.”
She said that there was no denying there had been damage to reefs in shallow waters, but divers who had been properly trained never touched the reefs and so never damaged the underwater environment.
”Snorkellers are the biggest danger because the reefs closest to the surface are the ones that suffered most in the bleaching and they are the ones that sometimes are also damaged by people who haven’t been taught not to touch them.”
One species of coral, Acroporidae, had been particularly harmed but different species responded to the bleaching in different ways.
”I’m not sure that the minister has been properly briefed on this issue,” she said. ”The result is confusion and possibly greater damage to other parts of the reefs that will now become overcrowded.”
She added that there didn’t seem much point in the Tourism Authority of Thailand spending millions of baht promoting tourism and diving when the government authorities suddenly decide not to let people go diving.
”Airlines, resorts, restaurants, tuk-tuks, taxis, people on tour boats will all suffer reduced income because of this thoughtless move,” she said.
Resorts had been asking and getting 7000 baht a night two years ago, but with 1500 baht now the asking price at the same resorts, she feared some resorts along the Andaman coast would inevitably be forced to close because of the government diving ban.
There is no indication yet how the closures will be enforced. For decades, illegal fishing has continued on and around marine parks, even though divers have been calling on the authorities to enforce the protection laws.
Dive industry workers are also suspicious that it could be part of an as yet unspoken attempt to improve the reefs to enhance Thailand’s potential to win UN World Heritage listing for the region.
However, with the authorities’ lack of ability to enforce current regulations, such a bid inevitably seemed doomed to fail, divers said.
Dr Wannakiat Tubtimsang, Director of the Phuket Region Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, said Phuket was a conservation area but not a national park.
”We must follow the act on Phuket,” he said. ”The number of boats, the number of people diving, must be recorded and controlled. Pollution and big numbers are damaging some of the sites.
”Now at the east of Racha Yai [probably Phuket’s most popular diving spot] and Koh He, the quality of the tourists is not good. How can we improve the guide quality and the quality of the divers?
”The problem is just as much about the people as it is about coral bleaching or global warming.”
The list of diving sites where divers could from today incur a penalty of between 1000 baht and 10,000 baht is:
In Phang Nga province – Mo Koh Surin Island, Ao Sutep, Ao Mai Ngam, Koh Ster, Ao Pakkard; Mo Koh Similan, East of Eden, Ao Faiwab.
In Krabi province – Nopparat Thara Park, Phi Phi, Hin Klang.
In Satun province – Hat Chao Mai National Park, Koh Cher; Mu Ko Phetra National Park, Koh Bulon Mai Pai, Koh Bulon Don; Koh Tarutao National Park, Kohtakiang, Koh Hin Ngam, Koh Rawi, Koh Dong.
In Chumporn province – At Mo Koh Chumporn, Koh Maprao. (in the Gulf of Thailand)