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Asia Dive News : Thailand's coral under serious threat

Thailand's splendid diving spots could become a thing of the past as coral reefs, especially in the Gulf of Thailand, have been severely damaged by human activity.

Andaman's corals are in better condition than those in the Gulf, the Marine and Coastal Resources Department says.

Human activity can upset the marine ecology and are considered a major cause of coral degradation.

"Setting up industrial parks and city expansion activities in coastal areas are the main factors causing coral destruction," said Niphon Phongsuwan, chief of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre's marine and coastal biology and ecology unit.

The department found in a survey of 771km along the Andaman and the Gulf coastline that Satun had the most fertile reefs with 47.8% of the coral in very good condition, followed by Ranong with 25.6% and Krabi with 24.1%.

All three provinces are on the Andaman coast.

The provinces with the lowest number of pristine coral reefs are all in the Gulf. Only 6.3% of coral in Chon Buri was found to be in good condition, while 14.9% in Chumphon and 19.3% in Trat was still fertile.

"While the coral numbers in the Andaman Sea are increasing by around 5% each year, no such growth has been seen in the Gulf," Mr Niphon said.

In fact, the level of coral damage in the Gulf had jumped from 12.9% in 1995 to 22.4% last year.

Thailand's coral reefs cover 96,000 rai, or less than 0.001% of Thai waters. They are crucial feeding grounds for marine animals and help generate income from eco-tourism.

The depletion of coral could affect the country's food security as marine products are a staple in the Thai diet.

In a bid to increase food sources for marine species, the department has created over 30 artificial reefs in the Gulf and the Andaman Sea.

However, marine experts say the artificial reefs cannot help restore marine fertility as the problem needs to be tackled at its root.

"The artificial reefs may not be a sustainable way of coral rehabilitation. We need to tackle the causes of coral reef illnesses, such as water pollution, flows of sediment from the land to the sea, and destructive diving activities," said Pinsak Suraswadi, director of the marine conservation and rehabilitation division.

A pilot project for sustainable management of coral will start on Koh Tao in Surat Thani, where the reefs have been badly affected by tourism.

The department plans to launch a Reef Watch project to monitor human activity at popular dive sites along the Gulf and Andaman coasts. Professional divers from 20 companies specialising in marine environmental protection activities will be recruited.

Source: Bangkok Post

Editors Comment:
It appears that they have left off the major cause of coral and marine life depletion in Thailand which is fishing. There are a number of pristine spots along the Gulf coastline where coral is growing but they will be fished out within a few years if nothing is done about it. The coral reef is an entire ecosystem which relies on the fish to be there. Thai fishermen generally do not respect the ocean they depend on for their livelihood.

There are a couple of islands off the coast of Chumphon with good coral growth and we were pleased that they had designated the area a marine national park. The annoyance was that the Thai authorities were all too keen to deprive the foriegners of an inflated entrance fee to visit the islands but still allowed locals to anchor on the coral and fish using nets.

Divers have also witnessed fishing boats throwing huge bin liners of plastic and polystyrene into the ocean near Hin Daeng & Hin Muang - two spots with abundant coral and marine life that attract manta rays in the Andaman.

Only when Thailand stops its money grabbing and starts caring for its environment through education will these reports show something positive.