Phi Phi coral being destroyed

Phi Phi coral being destroyed

Alarm bells ring over threat to marine life

The crystal waters  and white beaches  attract tourists  to Ao Maya on  Koh Phi Phi Ley.  Experts worry  a tourism influx  and corruption  among officials  are destroying  the island group’s  pristine beauty.
The crystal waters and white beaches attract tourists to Ao Maya on Koh Phi Phi Ley. Experts worry a tourism influx and corruption among officials are destroying the island group’s pristine beauty.

Koh Phi Phi, regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand, is concerned about its dying coral reefs.

The island, known for its marine life and a top tourism destination for more than 20 years, is seeking help from the government and tourism operators to look after its natural resources.

Koh Phi Phi and nearby islands welcome more than 1.4 million tourists a year, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT).

During the November-April high season, more than 5,000 tourists a day visit the cluster.

The Ao Nang Tambon Administrative Organisation said the island produced 10 tonnes of rubbish a day, while the influx of tourists at main sites such as Ao Maya and Ao Ton Sai also posed a threat to marine life.

Thon's Friends Group, established eight months ago on Facebook by Asst Prof Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biology lecturer at Kasetsart University who is engaged in marine protection, now has almost 40,000 followers.

The group intends to protect Koh Phi Phi and alert the authorities to the risks the natural resources face.

The Phi Phi cluster consists of six islands that lie 50 kilometres southeast of Phuket, forming part of Hat Nopharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park.

"The situation on the Phi Phi islands is critical," Assoc Prof Thon said.

He said locals were ready to protect their resources but lacked a leader.

Assoc Prof Thon believes tackling the problems on the Phi Phi islands will serve as a model for other locations such as Koh Lipe and Koh Tao, where local residents can resist encroachment by developers and corrupt government officials.

Surveys found only one of Koh Phi Phi's 14 coral reefs remained pristine, while one was slightly damaged, he said.

The other 12 -- located in Ao Maya, Ao Tonsai and Ao Pilay -- were dead.

Assoc Prof Thon said the damage came mainly from the anchors of tourist boats and tourists who stepped on coral while snorkelling.

More than 1,000 tourism boats are in operation but fewer than 100 licensed.

Ensuring all boats are licensed will go some way to stopping the damage to the corals and other natural resources, Assoc Prof Thon said.

Another problem facing Koh Phi Phi is corruption in the collection of entrance fees, as last year annual revenue from entrance fees amounted to 24 million baht.

After complaints by Assoc Prof Thon's Friends Group led to the transfer of the chief of the national park early this year, however, entrance fees totalled 14 million baht in October alone despite it being the low season.

Foreign visitors are charged 400 baht and Thais 40 baht -- since 90% of visitors are foreigners, annual revenue from the fees should be at least 150-200 million baht.

A limited number of staff at the National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department is another issue.

Only five staff with one boat supervise an areas that attracts well over 1 million tourists a year, Assoc Prof Thon said

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