Thailand closes off more islands

Koh Khai Nok. Businesses on the islands may be forced to close. Source: Wikimedia

Thailand’s military-run authorities have announced that parts of three islands will soon be ruled off-limits to tourists in an effort to tackle environmental degradation.

The waters off Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai are visited for their coral by day-trippers from Phuket but the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) has announced that up to four-fifths of reefs have been degraded.

“A tremendous amount of coral has been damaged and getting them to recover is very difficult,” the region’s DMCR director Watcharin Na was quoted saying by the Bangkok Post.

Coral reefs in many countries have suffered from a coral bleaching this year, caused by a strong El Nino which raised sea temperatures and global warming.

Thailand’s National Parks department has now indefinitely closed off 10 diving sites after bleaching was found in up to four-fifths of some reefs.

“The coral reefs are affected by unaware tourists, when they go diving they may touch or step on the reef. Closing those spots will help the reefs recover naturally,” National Parks director Reungsak Theekasuk told the media.

Bleaching occurs when coral come under environmental stress, like stronger sunlight and higher temperatures, and responds by shedding the algae that give bright colours.

Bleaching does not always kill coral but it becomes vulnerable to further damage while affected.

Watcharin Na added: “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 practise environmentally friendly tourism.”

Tourism is adding extra pressure on the ecosystems in Thailand, with an estimated 32 million visitors expected this year.

“The reasons for coral damage in the Koh Khai area is from the coral-bleaching process, which occurs naturally, and from human activity,” Watcharin Na said. “This includes the increasing number of tourists, boats that anchor on the coral, people walking on coral while playing in the water, feeding marine animals and catching them to take photos of with them.”

Around 60 speedboats or 4,000 tourists a day visited the islands, the DMCR estimated.

The authorities are apparently surveying up to 40 other islands on both coasts, with more closures expected, although not entire islands.

Earlier this month it was announced that tourists would be banned from Koh Tachai, a Similan island in the Andaman Sea, from October because of environmental fears.