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Asia Dive News : Thailand plans to close dive sites

The Marine and Coastal Resources Department is pressing ahead with a plan to close 10 popular diving sites in five provinces to limit the impact of tourism on severely damaged coral.

Department chief Kasemsun Chinnavaso said yesterday he had forwarded the proposal to the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, which supervises the affected marine national parks.

The diving sites facing temporary closure to allow coral to recover from bleaching are located in Hat Nopparattara-Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park in Krabi; Mu Koh Surin Marine National Park (Phangnga); Mu Koh Rang National Park (Trat); Koh Tao (Surat Thani); and Koh Pai and Koh Kang Kao (Chon Buri).

The department proposed earlier this week that the sites, which attract about one million tourists a year, be declared off-limits. The proposal has been met with strong resistance from diving operators and the tourism industry.

Mr Kasemsun, however, is standing firm on the plan, which received the backing of Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkiti.

The department has alerted all related agencies, including local administrative bodies, about the coral bleaching and recommended rehabilitation measures, Mr Kasemsun said.

"If related agencies refuse to comply with our recommendations, then they should take responsibility for the severe damage to the marine environment and future economic losses," he said.

Niphon Phongsuwan, the department's senior marine biologist, said the coral bleaching, which began early last year, was the worst in 20 years.

Scientists believe the main cause of the bleaching is the warming of the oceans, which forces zooxanthallae, an algae which coexists with the coral and gives it colour, to extract itself from the coral.

Many coral reefs in the Andaman Sea have turned a pale yellow or white colour and gradually died.

Less than 1% of coral affected by coral bleaching at Koh Phi Phi, Mu Koh Surin and Mu Koh Similan had recovered.

The staghorn is the worst-hit coral species because it is sensitive to warm water. However, staghorn coral need a shorter time to recover than pachyseris, which requires at least 20 years.

Pachyseris live about 30 metres below the sea surface.

Thailand has 96,000 rai of coral reef, half of which is in the Andaman Sea with more than 90% of the coral reef suffering bleaching.


Source: Bangkok Post