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Marine officials and Phuket divers work together to restore corals at Koh Khai island

Marine officials and Phuket divers work together to restore corals at Koh Khai island

PHUKET: Over recent months, officials from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, together with volunteer Thai students, local residents and expat scuba divers and instructors have banded together to help repair damaged coral reefs around Phuket.

By Eakkapop Thongtub

Wednesday 26 July 2017, 11:51AM

Last Sunday (July 23) Mr Pitun Panchaiyaphum, Director of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources’ (DMCR-Bangkok) Conservation and Restoration of Marine and Coastal Resources Division discussed the results of a two day coral restoration volunteer effort at Koh Khai Nai Island in Koh Yao district of Phang Nga province over July 21-22.

“We are working with Sea Angel Company, Fah Rung Company and Phuket diving operators including Scuba Cat Diving and Local Dive Thailand. Together they organised more than 25 volunteers divers, both Thais and foreigners,” said Mr Pitun.

“Pieces of damaged coral were collected and tied together. After that they were tied using plastic zip ties to existing corals on the reef. In two days more than 960 pieces were grafted back onto the reef. We are sure that this restoration effort will have a significant effect on improving the damaged coral reefs. We will have to follow up to examine the long-term results,” Mr Pitun explained.

“This is a great story about the good things happening at this time of year. There are too many stories about the destruction of the reefs,” said volunteer and local dive instructor Simon Lomas of Local Dive Thailand’s Patong office.

“But now with the aid of students, other concerned locals and a couple of expat dive instructors, we are being taught by Department of Marine and Coastal Resources – they are very underfunded, so it’s all volunteers – how we can repair and fix the damaged corals in low season to help recover and preserve them,” he added.

Mr Pitun went on to explain how they are teaching the coral repair techniques to local dive operators and encouraging them to take part in marine conservation efforts.

“We will have to teach this method to tourists divers, dive masters, and dive teachers. In order to encourage coral conservation. When they see broken corals they can use this technique to help bring them back to life. Also when they see garbage underwater, they can help by collecting it up. This is a good project for long-term conservation” Mr Pitun noted.

“To be able to restore corals, people have to be trained. Because we have to be very careful not to touch other nearby corals. Divers have to have a good floating and buoyancy technique,” Mr Pitun added.

“Koh Khai Nai is one of three islands in Prunai sub-district, Koh Yao. The other two islands are Koh Khai Nui, and Koh Khai Nok. These islands are very popular tourist attractions for both Thais and foreigners for scuba diving and snorkeling,” Mr Pitun explained.

“Unfortunately the coral reefs have been damaged from the many tourists who have visited these three islands in the past years. We have to use law enforcement to help conserve and restore these coral reefs,” Mr Pitun noted.

“In addition, local offices and tour operators have cooperated in the natural conservation and restoration project. This project is restoring damaged resources,” Mr Pitun added.

Mr Lomas added, “The main story here is the locals wanting to learn how to preserve the natural reefs and protect them from the damage the uneducated speed boat drivers, crews and tour guides are doing to Phuket.”

“Dave Wilson [scuba diving instructor and owner of the Halfway Inn restaurant in Patong] was the person responsible for bringing the project to the attention of the farang divers. If any other divers want to get involved they can contact me or Dave Wilson via Facebook, as this is going to be an ongoing project over many months and years.

The next dates for the reef repair effort are set for August 1-4 and will cover sections of the Mai Thon and Racha Yai islands. Mr Lomas noted that there are also plans underway for several big projects to create artificial reefs and to make Paradise Beach in Patong Bay a local dive site.

“It’s just nice to see people from all nations and backgrounds all pulling in the same direction to make a big difference to Phuket’s environment in the years to come,” added Mr Lomas.

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