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Phuket coral restoration begins as seawalking continues



PHUKET: Marine officers and volunteer divers who headed to Khai Nai island on Tuesday to help restore damaged coral – allegedly wrecked by a seawalking tour company (story here) – found the company back on site leading a tour when they arrived.

“We saw a ship named Sea Lion in the area with a speedboat alongside. People were on the speedboat and tourists wearing seawalking helmets were diving in the sea,” said Somying Phuangprasan, a Fishery Specialist at the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).

The DMCR group took photos of the seawalkers, she said.

Unfortunately, because police officers and officers from the Tourism and Guide Registration office came too late to witness the seawalking themselves, they could not press charges, said fellow DMCR officer Somuek Boonyai.

Tourist police officers ordered the Sea Lion to leave the area and escorted it away, he added.

As of April 15, complaints against the company had been reported to the DMCR, the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), the Phuket Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment, the governors of both Phuket and Phang Nga, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Inspector-General and the Chief Executive of that ministry.

However, charges have yet to be filed against the company.

“We have tried to contact the owner of the company, but he always sends his staff, who don’t know anything,” said Jakrit Janjit, Registrar of the Bureau of Tourism Business and Guide Registration Phuket office.

“This is the third time I have gone to inspect this case,” he continued.

“I have never seen any tourists on site. Today, I met only the captain of the boat and some crew, and that is not enough evidence to charge them with operating an illegal tourism business.

“The photos taken by the DMCR don’t clearly show tourists seawalking,” he said.

My main concern is that we don’t have enough evidence to press charges against anyone,” Mr Jakrit said.

“It is likely that they may sue us, and I don’t want that,” he added.

“With enough evidence, if the company operating seawalking is not registered, it will be charged with operating an illegal tourism business. If it is a registered company, it will be charged with destroying a tourist attraction,” he explained.

Once the Sea Lion left the area, volunteer divers proceeded to repair the 300 square meters of damaged coral.

Led by Dr Nalinee Thongtam, the senior marine specialist at the PMBC, who first saw the damage on March 22 and subsequently publicized it, the team started by installing steel frameworks into the sea floor.

The divers then used telephone wire and cable ties to attach pieces of living coral to the frames.

Fragments of dead coral were later dumped on the damaged area to provide a substructure for new coral to grow.

“Around 600 coral frags are still alive, but the restoration process will take at least five to six years, because the growth rate of coral is slow,” said Thanate Mannoi, chief of the Phuket DMCR office.

The team plans to return to the site in three months to check on the coral.

— Namsai Wongsaeree


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