Thailand is taking some pretty drastic measures to try to help its coral reefs recover from a one-two punch of a more-powerful-than-usual El Niño and the high number of divers who visit the country.
The Thai government recently announced the closure of more than 10 dive sites in the country, including ordering the removal of buildings and materials used for tourism on the islands of Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai, according to The Phuket News. All three islands are located a few kilometers from Phuket, a popular dive destination.
The ban was issued on May 19, and local tour operators were informed of the ban at a May 24 meeting.
Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang said:
“We want operators and guides active in Phang Nga and the surrounding areas to understand the rules and procedures in conducting a tour to prevent further damages to our marine natural resources and the coastal area. They must practice environmentally friendly tourism.”
About 80 percent of the coral reefs in the area have suffered damage, Watcharin told The Phuket News:
“Tour groups spend at least three hours swimming, feeding fish and snorkelling in the water, which severely damages the marine ecosystem, especially on coral reefs. . . . Today, a tremendous amount of corals have been damaged and getting them to recover is very difficult.
“The reasons for coral damage in the Koh Khai area is from the coral-bleaching process, which occurs naturally and from human activity. This includes the increasing number of tourists, boats that anchor on the corals, people walking on corals while playing in the water, feeding marine animals and catching them to take photos of with them.
“All these activities negatively impact the marine ecosystem and cause a deterioration in natural resources. They must be stopped.”