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Tourists ride a monsoon pontoon at popular Racha

Racha Summit to Resolve Threats to Phuket Reefs

Thursday, July 24, 2008
TRENDS

BIOLOGISTS hope a battle between fishermen and dive companies over the future of Koh Racha's coral reefs will be settled at a summit meeting soon.

Yet whatever the outcome, the reefs will remain threatened with destruction.

Paitoon Planchaiyaphon, director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, is helping to resolve the present tension. He is extremely concerned about the future of the Racha reefs, as well as others in the region.

Khun Paitoon says that construction runoff into the sea, coupled with ignorant tourists, over-fishing and global warming, is causing the quality of the Andaman's highly prized reefs to deteriorate rapidly.

On August 1, a summit will be held on Koh Racha, also known as Koh Raya, to reach an agreement on future use of the reefs around the island by divers and fishermen.

Local residents and resort managers will also have their say.

2008 is the Year of the Reef. So far, Khun Paitoon told Phuketwan, the news has not been good.

It's a vital issue for the Andaman because the reefs are a prime reason why tourists visit.

''The Racha reefs have simply become too popular,'' Khun Paitoon said. ''Diving day trips are killing them. So is overfishing.''

The outlook for reefs is grim everywhere. One third of the world's coral building species are facing extinction, according to an expert assessment published in the journal, Science.

''The picture is frightening,'' Alex Rogers of the Zoological Society of London told the BBC.

'I don't think politicians and the public are aware of the gravity of the situation we're in regarding coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.''

Racha's reefs are a living example of the intense pressure on nature caused by humans, especially around crowded Phuket. Regrettably, they may not be alive for much longer.

Khun Paitoon told Phuketwan that he was deeply concerned about the future of all Andaman reefs, but especially those around Racha.

''Many of the tourists do not understand that they should not tread on or touch the reefs or take pieces from them.''

Local fishermen are being forced to raid the waters around and above the reefs because fish are disappearing elsewhere. Reef fish are also being stolen alive for sale.

The reef fish, however, control algae and other reef killers and are vital to the coral ecosystem.

Some people are even stealing the protected coral itself for sale as souvenirs.

Khun Paitoon hopes the August 1 summit on Racha produces some solutions.

The greed of some local diving groups became apparent after the decision to sink about 10 obsolete aircraft to form an artiifical reef off Bang Tao beach.

One Phuket dive business proprietor wanted the artificial reef closer to his shop, for easy access and a better income.

He saw it as a commercial issue, rather than a conservation one.

In fact, the artificial reef is supposed to spread the tourism load and relieve the pressures on the irreplaceable living reefs.

Phuketwan remembers a snorkelling trip to the Racha a few years back.

A Korean couple, probably honeymooners, emerged from their dive with a clump of coral each.

Khun Paitoon hopes more artificial reefs will be created, and that divers and fishermen can be better informed.

Otherwise the real reefs, along with many tourists and the incomes of the dive shop owners, will simply disappear.

Drugs I: Money May Be Addictive

ILLICIT DRUGS are one reason for some travellers to choose other destinations close to Thailand, says Joe Cummings, the man who with others literally wrote the book on the country.

An author of the Lonely Planet Guide for 25 years, Cummings described in an article in a British magazine, the New Statesman, how easy it is to access drugs in Laos and Cambodia.

''Nowadays, tourists arriving in Bangkok expecting to party all night often say they feel cheated,'' he writes. Phnom Penh is being touted as the ''new Bangkok.''

''Two of the city's most popular, long-established bars, Sharky's and Walkabout, now open 24 hours a day,'' Cummings writes.

''The heady scent of marijuana, readily available for US$1 per neatly rolled Bob Marley-sized spliff, wafts down the streets of both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

''No one in Bangkok would dare smoke cannabis in public. In tourist Cambodia, however, it is relatively commonplace.''

Drug tourism also flourishes in neighbouring Laos, he says, particularly in the small town of Vang Vieng, where foreigns drift after dark towards the half-dozen opium dens.

He goes on to praise the ecotourism in both countries and adds:

''On Thailand's vast Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand coastlines, which still attract by far the majority of tourist visitors to the country, the negative impacts of overbuilding and congestion in parts of Koh Samui and Phuket have served as vivid lessons on how not to develop natural attractions.''

He writes that the quest for higher-spending tourists (of the kind now taking place on Phuket) actually undermines the destination because of the ''air-conditioned infrastructure'' demanded by upmarket travellers.

Cummings advocates a return to basics and less culturally destructive tourism.

''It is not too late to adjust Thailand's tourism marketing policy and to work towards preserving the increasingly fragile cultures and environments in the country's less explored areas of the north and north-east.''

We guess Cummings may not be back in Phuket in a hurry.

Drugs II: Correspondent Accused of Trafficking

JOURNALISTS are supposed to break news, not make it.

Australian foreign correspondent Peter Lloyd, who made many trips to the Phuket region in covering the aftermath of tsunami, is now facing a long jail term in Singapore.

According to police, the highly-regarded Australian Broadcasting Corporation frontman was caught in possession of a small amount of methamphetamine and is also accused of trafficking.

After four-and-a-half years based in Bangkok, the 41-year-old Lloyd moved to New Delhi in 2006. He was due to return to Australia as co-host of a new breakfast news show from September.

Lloyd has covered several cases involving Australians arrested on drug charges in Asia and reported on Nguyen Tuong Van, executed by Singapore in 2005 for heroin trafficking.

He was on holiday in Singapore. Subsequently bailed, Lloyd will be back in court at 9am on July 25 to face charges that carry a prison sentence of five to 20 years and five to 15 strokes of the rattan cane.

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Look for
TRENDS
every day, Monday to Friday, at Phuketwan. It's essential reading.

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