The main marine parks in the area, such as those at the Similan and Surin islands, are now closed for their annual recovery during the tourism low season, coinciding with the arrival of the southwest monsoon, which makes sea conditions dangerous anyway, and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) is calling for “Marine Rangers” to volunteer to keep watch over other coral reefs popular for tourist visits.
The corals within easy reach of Phuket have taken a battering over the years. The DMCR itself only two years ago estimated that overtourism had killed some 75% of the corals that once surrounded Koh Hei, literally called “Coral Island” in Thai, just offshore southeast of Phuket. That incredible amount of damage was done in just 10 years, DMCR officials said. (See story here.)
But now it appears that the tide is turning. The understanding that tourists will no longer come if there is nothing to see is finally sinking in.
Another huge turning point not to be underappreciated is the move by officials to include foreign expertise in helping to save corals in the region. Many Phuket dive operators for decades have helped lead the fight to preserve the stunning beauty that lies beneath our waters.
Of course there have been some Thai groups that have also led the charge – and here Go-Eco Phuket (click here) deserve special mention for their outstanding efforts – but in the early days, the number of foreigners in Phuket’s dive industry publicly reporting those fouling the seas and destroying our corals easily outnumbered the dwindling number of Thais who even wanted to work in the dive industry.
That, too, has changed.
To all those in Phuket's marine tourism industry, and particularly Phuket's dive operators, who have played a part in promoting this positive attitude towrds preserving our marine environment, take a bow. Your perserverence is paying off.
We look forward to the DMCR receiving bountiful support for the “Marine Rangers” project. That said, we also offer a word of caution for an agency that has at times been overzealous in its efforts to protect the corals.
To this we call for full transparency in all complaints levied against individuals and companies that will soon stand accused of breaking coral-protection laws, and for the right of those accused to defend themselves to be upheld.
But all this needs to be public and in the open. We can no longer have such matters privately resolved behind the tinted windows of some local government office. Those days must also sink beneath the waves.