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Phuket Coral Bleaches White as Heat Intensifies

Phuket Coral Bleaches White as Heat Intensifies

Monday, May 10, 2010
Jellyfish Photo Album Above

BLEACHING has whitened 90 percent of Phuket's and Thailand's coral reefs amid alarm over an unusually late hot season that has marine biologists concerned.

Divers confirm the widespread bleaching, as well as the presence of increasing numbers of jellyfish.

Niphon Phongsuwan, the coral reef specialist at the Phuket Marine Biology Centre, said reefs in both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand had begun the bleaching process in the first week of April, as sea temperatures remained unusually high.

''The key temperature is 30.1 degrees,'' he said. ''Unless the temperature drops from there, bleaching begins, and continues until the sea grows cooler.''

Diver and underwater photographer Adriano 'Wetpixel' Trapani, CEO of Dive Clan Co, confirmed that sea temperatures had remained high, triggering concerns about the coral.

''It is alarming, but I wouldn't be too concerned,'' Mr Trapani said. ''A similar event bleached coral in the Maldives a few years ago and the reefs there have returned to normal. It's a cyclical thing, probably caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

''At first we thought it might just be patches of coral that had been destroyed by the crown of thorns starfish, but now we know differently because the bleaching is so even.

''I was here for the tsunami when some reefs were damaged but now they are back the way they were.'' He said the larger threats to the reefs remained over-diving and exploitation.

Khun Niphon said coral bleaching occurred on Phuket's reefs between 1991 and 1995. ''In that time, there was less cloud protection from the sun and so quite a bit of coral died,'' he said. From 2003 to 2005, a less damaging cycle occurred, but the coral survived.

''Bleaching does not mean death for the coral, provided the monsoons come in time,'' he said. ''Coral lives on, and recovers, as long as the sun does not become too intense for too long.''

No area around Phuket had escaped bleaching, Khun Niphon said. With concern growing about long-term global warming, Khun Niphon is researching which types of coral are most resistant to bleaching so that the hardiest kinds of coral can be encouraged in future.

While the event could be coincidental, Mr Trapani said he had noticed an increasing number of jellyfish in waters near Phi Phi island, between Phuket and Coral Island, on the way to Raya island and in Chalong Bay, on Phuket. The jellyfish were capable of inflicting a mild sting, like sunburn, but not dangerous.

A spokesman for Phuket's weather bureau said that the monsoon usually came soon after the Songkran Festival of mid-April, but this year, extending into May, Phuket and southern Thailand had yet to see the heat break.

The spokesman preferred not to give his name, and said he had no idea why the monsoon was so late this year.

The bureau does not analyse year-on-year statistics and is therefore unable to give detailed information about possible future trends.

There is no way of knowing when the extended spell of heat will break this year.
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


I was diving the Similans on May 2 and 3 and saw how much damage the rising water temperature have been doing to all coral down to 20 meters or even deeper.

Nothing can be done by humans except to await that rain. Strong winds from the southeast monsoon will change underwater currents and upwelling currents from deep water to mix and cool down the surface water, which is at 31-32 degrees at the moment.

Similans, Surin and Koh Lanta Marine National Parks are closed from May 1 until October 30, 2010 and the coral reefs will need time to recover. So, it would be good that all government agencies such as Marine National Parks, Marine Police, Thai Navy and Fishery department organise patrol boat rotations seven days a week and 24hours a day to protect and block poachers who catch fish, especially at night time, during the New Moon period, where all fish are easy prey for fishermen.

Poachers and fishermen pay nothing and definitely no official fee to fish illegally inside all Marine National Parks but destroy the income of those who are working legally and paying huge fees to bring divers and tourists to visit those beautiful Thailand natural assets.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on May 10, 2010 11:03


I was out on my boat on Sunday at Ko Hong (East side of Yao Yai) and the surface of the water was covered in a thick brown algae, that looked like something else.

This is the first time I have seen such a thing in many years of boating off Phuket.

Posted by Stuart on May 10, 2010 11:51


I can find no evidence of Dive Clan Co Ltd on the Internet and as I am a published semi pro underwater photographer and member of I can find no evidence to backup Mr Adriano on wetpixel.

I was on a boat in the Similan islands when the tsunami hit. If you would like to know then email me. I remember the sites before and can still see the damage, but it's regenerating really quick on some dive sites.

I like your site but please get better informed/knowledgeable people in their specialist area, not some dive guy who comes here for a few months every year.

Keep up the quality work.

Editor: We'd heard the diving industry was ferociously competitive. Now we know it's true. Thanks, but we believe the official survey after the tsunami got it right in reporting that about 10 percent of corals had been seriously damaged, mostly reefs in narrow stretches between islands in the Similans.

Posted by John on May 11, 2010 01:59


At@ John W......
Longtime, I did not see you on liveaboard boats, maybe you get report from instructors or liveaboard operators which you are working with to send your customers.

True, large gorgonias, acropora and staghorn corals may have been wiped off at some south and north-western part of Similan, Bon, Tachai and Surin Islands but they are back at those dive sites and are growing faster than expected.

But the large density of acanthasters at some dive sites as well the high temperature above 30 degrees may reduce the process for the coral reef to recover faster.

The last factor which is the main cause of a slower recovery is the irresponsibility by Marine National park Officers to clamp down on poachers taking away all commercial fish in protected areas especially with large fishing traps which are catching trevally, grouper, napoleon, wrasse, seabass and so on...

Most of the time when we have official meeting with the Thai authorities, most of dive operators sent Thai staff who do not have scientific knowledge and do not have power to help and take decisions for their expat bosses during meetings.

Rather than hiding behind "Pen Name", come off your den and bring up solutions at official meetings.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on May 11, 2010 10:44


I've just noticed the comment Posted by John on Tuesday May 11, 2010 at 01:59...

First of all Dive Clan is a registered and fully functioning (yet small) dive business in Phuket. No website yet (is it the requirement to make it official to you John?).

For those living in Thailand should be a no brainer to know that there are thousands of registered tiny companies without a website...

anyway, lets move on...

The fact that among my nicknames I've been given by friends that of "wetpixel", doesn't necessarily mean I HAVE to be a member of that specific community... John, do you have any idea of how many UW photography website are out there???

Lastly, regarding your "I like your site but please get better informed/knowledgeable people in their specialist area, not some dive guy who comes here for a few months every year.":

I've been living and working in Phuket for the last 6 years continuously, I might be a rookie compared to a "similan god" like you (still to be verified as I know your name only and no other contacts details) YET, I didn't brag about it, I didn't contact Phuketwan and so on... THEY called me after I published some jellyfish pictures on Facebook! They called, I answered to the best of my knowledge!

All the best to you, to Phuket and to our beloved Similan...

Editor: Good to have your response, Adriano. There are some people who are always looking down, even though they are at 200 metres and still sinking. Happy to have your contributions any time.

Posted by Adriano on June 23, 2010 08:43

Friday June 21, 2024
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