Coral Bleaching Less Severe than Affected Southern Thailand National Parks
Scuba diving in Pattaya is unaffected by the Thai government’s decision to close 18 popular Southern Thailand dive sites for up to 14 months to allow coral there to recover from severe bleaching.
Thailand’s National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department closed seven national parks in the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand Jan. 20 after the coral bleaching crisis that has raged there since April shows no signs of easing.
Department chief Sunan Arunnoparat told the Bangkok Post that more than 80 percent of the coral has been affected. A worldwide problem, the bleaching — whitening of coral as it loses its natural pigment as a result of higher sea temperatures due to global warming – is the worst in 25 years.
Closed are Hat Chao Mai National Park in Trang, Mu Koh Petra and Tarutao national parks in Satun, Mu Koh Chumphon National Park in Chumphon, Hat Nopparat Thara-Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park in Krabi, and Mu Koh Surin and Mu Koh Similan national parks in Phang Nga.
The department chief would not estimate how long the dive sites would be closed, but diving probably would be banned until the end of the monsoon season in October.
None of the affected dive sites are in the Pattaya and Sattahip area, where Aquanauts continues to dive daily.
Aquanauts Master Instructor Gary Tytler said bleaching has affected corals worldwide, including Pattaya. But the worst of the bleaching in Pattaya occurred in late summer and the coral in the area has made an astonishing recovery since.
In Pattaya, affected by terrible pollution throughout the 1990s, “corals know they have to be tough,” Tytler joked.
Experienced divers in Southern Thailand expressed downplayed the impact of the closure while at the same time lashing out at the government for its ignorance in singling out the dive industry.
Divers, many noted, are among the most environmentally conscientious users of the ocean. Dive operators are not to blame for coral bleaching, damage to reefs or most of the pollution. For that, the government needs only to look at fleets of illegal fishing boats that drag nets across coral and spill countless barrels of oil and fuel into the Andaman Sea.
If the Thai government seriously wanted to protect the coral, it would police fishing boats better.
Torpong Wongsathienchai, whose company offers diving tours to Similan Islands and Surin Islands in Phang Nga told The Nation newspaper that authorities were not aiming at the root problem.
“The move will hardly be useful. In fact, national marine parks have been closed to tourists for about six months out of the year all along,” he said.
Authorities should implement strict measures to reduce oil spills from boats and promote environmentallyresponsible tourism, he said.
A dive instructor with Gekko Scuba Divers in Phuket said the government action will, in effect, have little impact on most divers in that area and people should not be hesitant to come to Thailand for dive holidays.
“Essentially, these are all shallow sites most of which are used primarily for snorkeling, and in the case of the Similans reefs, either night dives where the boat is moored or checkout dives at the beginning of the trip,” he wrote on the Scubaboard message forum. “The long and the short of it is that most of the sites are ones that dive boats don’t visit, and for the couple that are traditionally part of the itinerary, boats have been avoiding these dive sites this season, so they have made the necessary adjustments already.”
Still, divers who want to be sure of exciting dives – including doing Thailand’s only real shipwrecks – should choose Pattaya or at least add the Pattaya area to their travel itinerary.