Khanchit Klingklip, head of the local marine conservation group Healthy Reefs Club, reported the “catch and release” of the coral poachers yesterday (May 10).
“I was at Chalong Pier and saw two Chinese tourists carrying something bundled in a white cloth. I asked to see inside and found they were carrying specimens of massive coral and staghorn coral, and some shells,” he said.
“The guide who was taking care of the two Chinese tourists said they had just returned from Coral Island, but the guide said he did not know that the two tourists had taken corals and shells from the island,” he added.
“I warned both the guide and tourists, and asked the guide to put the corals back into the water at the end of the pier, Mr Khanchit said.
The removal of corals from Coral Island comes after marine experts have confirmed that mass tourism to Coral Island has killed 75% of the reefs there in the past 10 years. (See story here.)
“I want to ask for cooperation from tour guides to warn and pay attention to their tour groups to make sure they do not bring any corals and shells back to shore. It is illegal,” Mr Khanchit said.
“Even if they managed to smuggle them back to shore, they would not be able to smuggle them onto a flight back to their home country,” he added.
Mr Khanchit did not report the incident to the police or the Ministry of Tourism and Sports Phuket office.
He did not name the tour guide or even the tour company that provided the day trip to the island.
The soft warning yesterday signified a marked departure from the hardline stance against people who damage corals and interfere with reef marine life abruptly enforced by authorities earlier this year.
Chinese tourist Huang Yongjia, 35, was fined B100,000 after he was caught with two baby Parrotfish in a plastic bottle at Racha Yai Island in January. (See story here.)
Then in February 53-year-old Russian tourist Olga Smirnova spent two days in police cells because she was unable to raise the B100,000 bail demanded by police after she was arrested just for feeding fish at Racha Yai island. (See story here.)
In both incidents no action was taken against the tour guide or tour operator at all.
Of note, a recent online poll by The Phuket News saw a clear majority of readers call for both the tourists themselves and their tour guides be charged for damaging corals where their activities have caused obvious harm to the key tourist eco-attractions in the region. (See story here.)