Cape Town - Marine officials in Thailand have banned tourist activities at coral reefs near three islands off Phuket’s east coast to prevent further damage to corals at the popular tour sites. Shops and restaurants on these islands have also been dismantled this week, after the ban came into effect on Tuesday, 24 May.
This comes after the announcement that all beaches and coral reefs around Koh Tachai island in the Similan National Park off Phangnga province of Thailand will be off-limits to all visitors for an indefinite period.
READ: Thailand to close Koh Tachai island indefinitely as marine protection prioritised
Now, three more islands have adopted the 'no tourists policy' by order of marine officials, in a bid to save the coral reefs at Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai, all located a few kilometres from Phuket.
The proposal is that the local government will police the waters to ensure the bans are fully enforced. In addition, notices will be posted in several languages to alert visitors of the ban.
Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) in Thailand's regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang informed Phang Nga and Phuket tour operators and guides of the ban, saying, "We have discovered that about 80% of the coral reefs in the area have suffered damage".
"We want operators and guides active in Phang Nga and the surrounding areas to understand the rules and procedures in conducting a tour to prevent further damages to our marine natural resources and the coastal area.
"They must practice environmentally friendly tourism,” Watcharin said.
The main reasons for coral damage in the Koh Khai area, according to Thailand's DMCR, is coral-bleaching, which occurs naturally and from human activity. The increasing number of tourists, boats that anchor on the corals, people walking on corals while playing in the water, feeding marine animals and catching the animals to take photos of with them all contributed to the closing of the area to tourists, Phuket News reports.
Since monitoring of the areas started in March this year, "we have seen tourists feeding fishes and collecting corals from the reefs," Suchart Rattanareangsri, for the DMCR’s Conservation division says.
Now, officials are clearing all beach umbrellas and beach chairs in the area. "Shops and restaurants on the Koh Khai islands will be removed and the Royal Forest Department has been contacted to carry out the removal of these structures," Rattanareangsri added.
There will be set routes around the islands where tour boats may enter and depart from, and where they cannot enter. Officials will also install more mooring buoys in the area, and so far 40 buoys have been set up to mark these out in the waters.
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