Thailand's coral reefs in 'crisis'

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Experts say that the coral reefs in the coastal waters of Thailand have decreased by 50%, due to damage caused by the fishing industry, tourism and other human activities.

In a report by Phuket Gazette, Pinsak Suraswadi the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) said: "Currently, our natural coral reefs are not half of what they used to be — we are in a crisis."

"The areas that have been most seriously affected are those that are regularly exposed to human activity, such as off tourist destinations along the coast."

He said that although the whole area is in trouble, the Gulf of Thailand is at greater risk than the Andaman coast, and that the best reefs are now only found in national parks, such as the Similan Island reserves.

Some of the Similan Islands are only open to tourists from November to April, to allow them to recover the rest of the year. 

In an attempt to prevent further damage to coral reefs by the fishing industry, the PMBC has introduced a programme which involves buying used fishing gear in an attempt to discourage fisherman from throwing old netting and other rubbish overboard.

He said that creating more artificial reefs such as scuttled ships, would provide diving attractions for tourists while also reducing the effects of diving on the natural reefs.

The PMBC has become involved with the Green Fins project, which aims to establish and implement environmentally guidelines for scuba diving. These guidelines include encouraging snorkelers to wear life jackets particularly if they are not confident swimmers, to prevent them kicking shallow corals; divers keeping their feet away from corals to prevent damage; to avoid stirring of the sediment; not to touch, chase or feed marine wildlife; to use mooring buoys instead of potentially damaging anchors; not to collect marine life, whether alive or dead.

However, Mr Pinsak made it clear that everyone concerned would have to work together in order to prevent further damage and degradation to Thailand's reefs.

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