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Guy ''Charlie'' Lidureau: Alarmed at levels of bleaching on Phuket reefs

Andaman Reef Deaths Loom as Disaster for Phuket

Friday, November 26, 2010
MARINE experts have reacted with alarm to news that the coral reefs off Phuket and the Andaman have been severely damaged by coral bleaching. One expert at the Phuket Marine Biology Centre has called for coordinated action to save the region's star tourism attraction.

Dr Nalinee Thongtham told Phuketwan: ''We as experts can say what the problems are but we have no power to determine the future of the coral reefs that bring so many visitors to the region.

''The authorities must act now. It can take eight or 10 years to restore the coral reefs, and the process must be properly managed. Once the reefs die off beyond a certain point, it will not be easy to bring them to life again.''

Phuket dive company consultant Guy ''Charlie'' Lidureau raised the alarm this week when he reported: ''I have just come back from five diving days at the Similans, Bon Tachai and Richelieu Rock. All coral reefs between the surface and 20 meters in depth are 60 percent to 80 percent dead, and at some dive spots100 percent dead.''

An extended hot high season at prolonged high sea temperatures caused the damage when Phuket's usual monsoon rains did not bring relief early enough.

Now experts are concerned to aid the recovery by environmental controls over the reefs and the diving industry - or face the end for Phuket's most vulnerable natural attraction.

Dr Nalinee said: ''The reefs are still beautiful and first-time divers in the region will still find them delightful. But regular divers can see the difference. Once the coral dies off beyond a certain point, it will not be easy to bring them back.''

Dr Nalinee said the need for the diving industry to make money was understood but the business has been operating without regulation, much to the concern of Mr Lidureau and other veteran Phuket operators.

''There is a vital need to fix and control what activities can be done in which areas,'' Dr Nalinee said. ''Regulations have to be introduced to control the number of divers, or the reefs will not survive this natural disaster, and the man-made disaster of overuse.''

Mr Lidureau said: ''What is happening this year in the Andaman Sea is must worse that the 2004 tsunami. Where coral reefs are completely dead, it will take at least 5-10 years to recover.

''The only places left to dive will be in deeper water below 20 meters and dive sites with large boulders as fishermen, storms and the El Nino bleaching phenomenon were not able to remove them.

''The Similans and Surin Island have only been open for three weeks so only a few people knew the truth.''

Mr Lidureau said the devastated reefs in Thailand and lack of fish will push dive tour operators and divers around the world to find alternative liveaboard dive destinations in other oceans for the coming years.

''Expect fewer reservations and more cancellations,'' he said.

Mr Lidureau, general manager of Seafarer Divers in Chalong, is an advocate of tighter environmental enforcement and restrictions on the number of day-trip and liveaboard divers, as well as a limit to the number of dive operators.
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This is only the beginning of the natural disaster Phuket is waiting for... After Phuket will be able to cry only on itself cause this is what it deserves..

Posted by Dave on November 26, 2010 10:01

Editor Comment:

Dave, You've gotten out of bed on the wrong side. Go back, close you eyes for a couple of seconds, then get out on the other side. Your day will be much, much brighter.

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There was a heavy, very extensive bleaching event here in 1990-91 as well, so if this spells the end, why is there any coral left 20 years later? Some coral will die, certainly, some will not, others will grow back, species may change. This is how nature works.

The Maldives had a huge event in 1998 as well while we were protected due to currents bringing in very cold water (down to 17 degrees C in the Similans). I am not saying it's a good thing, this year's bleaching event, but everyone is making it sound like it's the first time it's happened. It's not. The last one was just as bad if not worse.

I'm sure there were previous events here before 1990, but I have no proof. Maybe a follow up with the marine biological center by this reporter could include that.

There was a major bleaching event in 2002 on the Great Barrier Reef as well and that certainly didn't kill Australian tourism. Let's calm down a little bit and put this in perspective.

Regarding CoT starfish, the GBR has had a problem with them since back in the 1970s. Still, to this day, no one that I have ever heard of has been able to explain that problem. It's not global warming. Major studies have been done and no one knows why they have sudden breakouts.

Posted by John Williams on November 26, 2010 10:39

Editor Comment:

We're previously reported the comparisons with other bleachings. The recovery process will be faster and damage from the inflow of tourists will be reduced if the diving industry is effectively managed. Without management, the reefs may never recover to their former state. A second serious bleaching next year might change the outlook, though.

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THANKS for putting things back into perspective for the non-diving community, John ... those of us here long enough remember the 1998 "El Nino" Coral Bleaching very well, and as you say although it is obviously "not good" it IS nature at work, it happened before and will happen again, reducing the number of boats or divers will obviously have no affect on Coral Bleaching either .... thanks, John

Posted by Chris on November 26, 2010 16:37

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I'm a little puzzled by this claim

"The recovery process will be faster and damage from the inflow of tourists will be reduced if the diving industry is effectively managed"

I don't know how much you know about marine biology or diving. I certainly don't know enough even though I am a professional diver.

Can you please explain how the amount of divers or boats relate to the recovery speed of coral bleaching ?

As far as I know, bleaching is caused by too high water temperatures. Does diving increase water temperature ?

I know this is what you were told by the person you interviewed but just because he says so, doesn't make it so.

I'm not against limited amount of divers but divers as a whole are perhaps the most environmentally aware group of people.

Fishermen, boat crews and Similan Park Rangers however are not. The biggest problem in Similan is illegal fishing. You can find illegal fishing traps everywhere once you dive a bit off the established dive sites.

We have witnessed and documented this happening in plain view of the Rangers who did nothing. We reported this to the Park HQ and never heard from them since.

The same boat was seen in Similan a week later with same type of illegal bamboo fishing traps and a crane on board.

Posted by Chris on November 26, 2010 22:43

Editor Comment:

Marine biologists believe that severely damaged reefs will recover faster if no diving is permitted on or around them, and that it's time in any case that the diving industry was controlled. This applies to day-trippers as well: I've seen snorkellers emerge carrying souvenir chunks of coral. Clearly, illegal fishing also has to be stopped. If the industry continues to grow without control, won't its future be unmanageable and uncertain?

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Have a look at the Khao Lak Echo dot com website for an update (survey in the first week of November by Dive Centers based in Khao Lak) Divers and snorklers definitely can further damage affected coral, but the biggest problem by far are fishing activities. There is also an interview with the NP Chief.

Posted by Alex on November 27, 2010 11:10

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@ Chris
I agree with you that coral bleaching, storm, crown of thorns, oil or chemical pollution and other disasters are regularly taking a toll on coral reefs but the Thai administration has the power and the duty to protect its unique natural assets such as marine national parks in Thailand.
Divers are educated foreigners or Thai alike and are controlled by a divemaster with briefing and debriefing during dive trips; so impact by divers on coral reef is minimal and closing dive sites is useless.

To complete what is reported in Phuketwan I may say that:

- All commercial fish have gone and we have only schools of juvenile fusilier fish as fishermen have been poaching heavily during the closure period of May-October.
- Anchoring on shallow coral reefs by fishermen during storm are evident (Anita's reef).
- Fishing traps in deeper water (30-40 meters) have to be blame for the catch of groupers, travelly, parrot and other reef fish.

To reduce more damage to coral reef and marine national parks in Thailand, it is possible to:
- Crack down on illegal fishing boats which are poaching in marine national parks.
- for scientists and marine biologists to convince the Thai Administrations to ban new fishing boats and start to buy back old fishing boats for scrap as European countries, North America and Australia are doing since many years.

Do not forget that on 100 baht sales, 80 baht goes for diesel, 10-15 baht goes to Burma crew and less than 10-15 baht are for Thai people including investors. Industrial Economic Zones in Ranong, Trang and Satun may help to create new jobs for those laying off in the fishing industry.
- Definitly less experienced divers will book from overseas liveaboard and day dive trips; so a crackdown would be welcome on tour and dive companies.

Posted by Guy (Charlie) LIDUREAU on November 27, 2010 12:57

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On one snorkel adventure to Ko Raya last week our Thai Guide gave us all a big speech about how paying extra to rent flippers is in our best interest because with the protection of the fins we would be free to walk on the corals as much as we pleased.....

Most of us westerners were shocked that he'd make such a statement. But when 80 percent of the tour was Russians and Chinese where people have a major lack of care for that kind of thing.... Well...

If they do take the measure of limiting the number of dive companies.. Do we really believe that they will allow those who demonstrate the best knowledge and record of responsibility..??? Or will they just give those licences out to the those who are well-connected or who pay more???

Posted by kevin on November 27, 2010 14:22

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Guy

Sad but true. I feel just as unhappy and powerless about this problem as you do. I've only seen it get worse.

You raise a very important point:

If Thai government wants to cut down on (illegal) fishing, they need to provide alternative jobs for these people.

I would like to see a way for current fishermen to profit from diving industry. If they could see income from protecting the environment, it would encourage them to do so.

A much used comparison is a whale shark which is worth about US$ 30.000 when slaughtered but when sighted at divesites brings in tourism revenue worth several million.

May I also ask you to be a bit more specific about what kind of crackdown you suggest on the dive industry? I mean you admit yourself that "impact by divers on coral reef is minimal and closing dive sites is useless"

I would suggest a 4 to 1 diver / DM ratio and a limit on max divers per boat.

Posted by Chris on November 29, 2010 00:55


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