Governor backs sea walking

PHUKET: Phuket Governor Pongpayome Vasaputi has recommended to the government that sea walking be put on a firm legal footing. In a document sent to the Prime Minister’s office, he also recommended that the local Tourist Business and Guide Registration Office (GRO) be given sole responsibility for issuing licenses and overseeing the industry. A handful of companies currently conduct sea walking tours around Koh Hey, providing tourists with weighted boots and a “bubble” helmet into which air is pumped from a boat above. In the past, environmentalists heavily criticized sea walking because of the damage they said was done to reefs by untrained tourists walking on the coral. In response, the government of Chaovalit Yongchaiyudh announced that sea walking licenses would not be renewed at the end of 1997, effectively closing down the industry. Before the end of that year, however, the Democrat government of Chuan Leekpai took power. Although it did not renew licenses, and refused to allow new companies to go into the sea-walking business, it did allow existing companies an open-ended “grace” period during which they could continue operating. Last year, Gov Pongpayome said, sea-walking operations around Thailand recorded revenue of 96 million baht. The four Phuket companies accounted for about 20% of this, he said. In the intervening years, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has countered the environmentalists’ accusations by commissioning a report from a private consultancy. This found that the environmental damage from sea walking was minimal. The governor said that he recommended the GRO take sole responsibility for the business because, up to now, too many government offices had been involved, none of them with the power to make decisions. These included the GRO, the Fisheries Office, the Harbor Master’s Office, the Provincial Environmental Office, the Forestry Office and the Royal Thai Navy, Third Fleet. In addition to issuing licenses, Gov Pongpayome said, the GRO should check the skills of employees in sea walking companies and the standard of equipment used. It should also establish specific zones for sea walking and set up a fund to take care of the environment, to which the sea walking companies would be required to contribute. Bangkok has yet to reply to the Governor’s recommendation.

Phuket News
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