The coral damage counter-measures were brought into effect after a recent spate of environmental issues at Racha Island led to a meeting of marine officials with local conservation clubs, which laid out five demands for all tour operators and divers to follow to prevent any further impact on the environment.
The demands were set out at a meeting held between members of two local environmental conservation clubs, officials from the Marine and Coastal Resources Administration Office and an officer from the Chalong Police yesterday (Jan 4) held on Racha Island to discuss issues relating to the protection of the island’s environment.
The meeting was held following a local marine conservationist blasting the surge in “Try Dive” tours for damage caused to coral reefs at key dive tour sites off Phuket – the worst of which he said was Koh Racha – and also after photos showing a female Asian tourist leaving the island with a bagful of coral going viral.
Local marine conservationist Paitoon Panchaiyaphom was attending to a reef at Plub Pla Bay at Koh Racha, south of Phuket, as part of his local conservation group’s efforts to protect the reef when he saw a dive instructor with two divers stepping on corals nearby.
Mr Paitoon blasted the surge in enthusiasm for the “Try Dive” beginner dive courses, in which people who have never dived before are led on basic tours to introduce them to the experience of diving. (See story here.)
In attendance at yesterday’s meeting, held at the Racha Hotel on Racha Island, were 20 members of the Racha Yai Island Conservation Club and Racha Yai Island Development Club led by their leaders Mr Satit Jandee and Mr Danai Phujaroen, together with Mr Suchart Rattanaruangsri the Director of the Preservation of Marine Life Section of the Sixth Marine and Coastal Resources Administration Office and Sen Sgt Maj Somchock Nuiprom of the Chalong Police, who is stationed at Racha Island.
Mr Satid said that the issue of Try Dive relates to dive instructors based off Racha Island and that no Racha-based dive instructors were involved.
“If tour and dive companies want to see how local dive instructors teach Try Dives they can do so, however, we would need the police to be involved if they do,” he said.
He then went on to say that the issue of tourists taking coral from the island stems from tour guides not providing tourists with information on what they should or should not do when visiting Racha Island.
“These guides do not inform their customers that they are not allowed to take coral, shells or rocks back from the island. Our members warn tourists all the time, but they do not listen and continue to take these things. I want the guides responsible for these tourists to be checked by officials,” he said.
Another further issue of concern raised by Mr Satid was divers who shoot fish in the shallow waters. “We have a rule for Racha Island which states that harpoons cannot be used to catch fish, but this continues to happen,” he said.
Lastly, Mr Satid said that there are not enough mooring buoys at Racha Island and this causes some boats anchor on the coral reefs. “I want officials to take responsibility for this issue on this,” he said.
Mr Danai added that he wants at least one marine official based on Racha Island full time.
“I would like to have a marine official based here for a trial period of three months. They have the power to charge anyone who breaks the law, and this in turn will help preserve the marine environment,” he said.
As a result of the meeting it was agreed that five demands would be introduced, with immediate effect, in an attempt to improve the problems faced at Racha Island:
1. As of January 5, a marine official would be stationed on the island with police and together they would check and charge those who break laws.
2. Officials will strictly check for boats moored illegally and allowing tourists to smuggle marine life.
3. Officials will place warning signs on the island stating coral should not be damaged and marine life should not be caught.
4. More mooring buoys would be installed off the island.
5. Conservation clubs will push island based diving operators to set up their own club which will set out rules regarding diving at Racha Island. Operators from off island will be informed of the rules and officials will enforce them.
Following the meeting, Director of the Preservation of Marine Life Section Mr Suchard said that the issues regarding Try Dives and tourists taking coral from the island have already been reported to Chalong Police together with evidence.
“The evidence we have provided shows that these tourists have contravened the Wild Animal Preservation and Protection Act,” he said.
“We check Racha Island twice a week, but sometimes offenders do things when there are no officers there, so we need cooperation from tour operators based on the island.
“There are already more than 20 cases filed with the court and another seven cases where tourists have been found guilty of breaking the law,” he said.
“Since the meeting we have also checked dive boats moored off Batok Bay, we found many boats moored there which belonged to ‘Discover Dive’ and we have instructed them of the conclusion of our meeting. We have informed both their instructors and divers not to damage corals,” he said.