Tourist islands unite to save environment

Tourist islands unite to save environment

Protection measures to be brought in July

Divers remove garbage from the sea bed but a more robust, two-year effort to rejuvenate the marine ecology is to begin in July. (Photo by Amnart Thongdee)
Divers remove garbage from the sea bed but a more robust, two-year effort to rejuvenate the marine ecology is to begin in July. (Photo by Amnart Thongdee)

KOH SAMUI: Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan in Surat Thani province will ban "unfriendly activities" which hurt the environment and marine ecological systems at the country's top tourist destinations.

The marine and coastal resources protection measures will take effect in July, Marine and Coastal Resources Department chief Jatuporn Burutphat said. The marine and coastal resources protection measures will last for two years and can be renewed.

The measures include no anchoring at a coral reef, a ban on feeding marine animals, no catching fish, no construction that has harmful results on marine and coastal resources, no waste water discharges, and no sea walker activity.

This is the second time the department has exercised its authority under the Marine and Coastal Resources Management Promotion Act which is intended to stop activities that are harmful to marine and coastal resources.

The first announcement was made in Koh Kai last year in Phangnga province, which has faced problems from an abundance of tourists.

The measures have also included more buoys to moor boats, instead of anchoring in the sea.

Department chief Jatuporn said public hearings were held last month and that all parties agreed with it.

"The announcement is expected to be published in the Royal Gazette next month and it will be effective within 90 days," he said.

"Before that, we will talk with business operators on the islands so that they are able to prepare for the measures."

The department said the marine ecological system on the three islands, especially around coral reefs, has deteriorated in quality.

There are 25,310 rai of coral reef and 9,495 rai of sea grass.

Rare marine species are found in these areas, such as eight types of whales, including Irrawaddy dolphins, Bryde's whale and Chinese white dolphin, turtles and dugongs.

Despite being significant tourist locations, no adequate system on waste water and garbage management has been put in place.

On Koh Tao, about 30 tonnes of garbage per day accumulates, the department said.

A similar problem is also found on Koh Samui where 250,000 tonnes of garbage is waiting for proper management as the garbage incineration plant has been broken for more than eight years.

However, the local administration received funds of 300 million baht to take care of all pending waste for proper management on the mainland.

On Koh Phangan, 7,300 tonnes of waste is generated per year.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Surasak Kanjanarat said cooperation from stakeholders under Section 17 will be a big step to protect and preserve marine and coastal resources.

He said the ministry will work with the Ministry of Tourism and Sport.

Stakeholders were invited to a ceremony kicking off the protection measures on Thursday, though consultation on the details will continue.

Speaking after the memorandum of understanding ceremony for the measures, signed by 21 organisations on Koh Samui, Veerasak Kohsurat, Minister of Tourism and Sports, said the ministry has a policy to focus more on "quality" tourists as it strives for a better balance between tourist income and environment and natural resources.

He said the ministry is striving to collect entry fees from tourists and introduce a package of health and accident insurance for tourists.

According to the ministry, 36 million tourists visited Thailand last year, generating more than three trillion baht in revenue.

Meanwhile, there are 1,252 hotels and resorts on the three islands, with 1.384 million tourists.

Almost half of them go to Koh Samui.


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