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Divers off Phuket carry poached coral blooms back to the ocean

Poachers Lose as Phuket Gains Reef Watchdogs

Friday, September 4, 2009
CORAL blooms, captured in raids on poachers last week, were restored to the sea yesterday as part of an artificial reef.

The blooms were listed as non-protected marine species and experts now say the law needs to change to save Phuket's reef environment.

Because the coral blooms are non-protected, they can be taken and kept, but not onsold, unlike protected species, which cannot be taken.

The Deputy Director General of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Prawim Wudthisin, warned that orders from aquariums all over Thailand were being filled with coral blooms stolen from Phuket waters and other Andaman reefs.

''Without them, the Andaman reefs will deteriorate and eventually disappear,'' he said. ''The reef environment is sensitive to this kind of theft.''

By stealing coral fish of the Nemo kind, and selling them for small amounts, local poachers were killing their future.

''More money will be made by locals if thousands of divers come to see the marine life where it belongs,'' he said.

Yesterday marine police divers and biologists from Phuket's Marine Biology Centre took the blooms out to sea, attached them to concrete bricks, then lowered them into the ocean off Koh Ao.

The island is to the south of Phuket, near Koh He.

Biologists hope the clean, fast-flowing waters here will help to speed rapid development of the reef.

Khun Prawim said the reefs around Phuket were in better condition this year than last year, despite the poachers.

Surin and the Similan islands were now excellent for snorkelling and diving and should appeal to tourists when the new season opens in November.

Concerns are being held worldwide for the future of coral environments, with Australia's Great Barrier Reef in particular under constant threat.

''Dead zones'' from chemical run off are now apparent, even though the reef is well out to sea.

Phuket has 33 islands, including the main island, and Marine and Coastal Resources is involved in looking at development projects whenever applications are made.

Khun Prawim said he agreed with Phuket Governor Wichai Praisa-nob that there was a need for authorities to check that developers were following environmental agreements once projects began construction.

''There is no follow-up once the approvals have been given,'' he said.

''That's clearly a danger to the undersea world. We have to have the capacity to check, and to impose penalties if breaches are found.''

On the boat yesterday, advising Marine Police divers how to attach coral blooms to the bricks to ensure their survival, was Dr Narinee Tongtam.

She is from the Phuket branch of Marine and Coastal Resources, a professor at Phuket Rajaphat University, and a member of the Governor's new committee to oversee all environmental controls.

While Phuket's artificial Sky Dive Reef off Bang Tao has been largely destroyed within months, other more solidly structured reefs are expected to alleviate pressure on the high-risk natural ones.

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