Officials have expelled a boat belonging to a seawalking tour operator from an island off Phuket, Thailand after it was found that the company had ripped out corals and installed underwater handrails to provide a pathway for tourists!
Seawalking involves tourists walking about on the bottom of the sea, wearing special plastic shoes and large helmets connected to an air supply on a boat back at the surface.
Officials found that J and J Marine — the company running the Sea Lion boat on Khai Nai Island — had ripped out 300 square metres of coral to create a flat walkway for the tourists and also added a railing for them to hold on to.
The cut coral had been piled on top of living coral and protected sea clams had been moved elsewhere. Even the boat itself was anchored to coral.
It was also found that the business doesn't have a license with the Bureau of Tourism Business and Guide Registration. The operators have since been asked to leave.
"Corals are protected by the Wildlife preservation and Protection Act BE 2535, so the police will be involved in the investigation of the damage caused by the seawalking company," the Phuket Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) Office Chief, Thanate Mannoi told the Phuket Gazette.
Somporn Teerin, the manager of the seawalking business, denies damaging the coral. He says that the coral his company removed was already dead and that the walkway where the railing was installed is a natural coral-free water channel.
The rails have now been removed and the area buoyed off. More than 800 coral frags are still alive, but experts say it could take five years or more for the area to recover.
A team of divers have been brought in to help replant the coral.
Other seawalking businesses operate in the area, but these all have licenses.
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