Thailand: Coral reef bleaching in Gulf of Thailand shocking

Thai Visa 18 May 16;

BANGKOK: — Continuous warming of sea water in the Gulf during the past several days has caused widespread coral bleaching with 80 percent of the coral reefs at Maprao island off Chumporn province having bleached, said Mr Tunya Netithammakul, director-general of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation.

Coral bleaching has been reported at Chumporn islands marine park, Khao Laemya-Koh Samet, Petra and Ang Thong marine parks with 50 percent coral reef bleaching at Ngam Noi and Kula islands, 10-25 bleaching at Bulone Don and Rang islands, 40 percent bleaching at Thalu and Kuti islands, 20 percent bleaching at Samsao island.

Ms Suthilak Veeravan, director-general of Marine and Coastal Resources Department, said the department had kept a close watch on coral reef bleaching phenomenon since 2011 and found 33 coral bleaching spots – 17 in the Gulf and 16 in the Andaman sea. The severity of the bleaching ranges from 10-80 percent.

She admitted that bleaching incidence was shocking with 80 percent coral reefs in the sea off Nakhon Si Thammarat and Pattani remaining in good conditions out of a total of 16 provinces where the conditions are worse with only 10 percent in good conditions in 11 provinces.

Move to protect coral zones after 33 spots with bleaching found

OFFICIALS are preparing to ban several activities in coral-reef zones after bleaching hit 33 marine sites around the country.

"Of the 33 spots affected by coral bleaching, 25 are inside national parks zones," Suthiluck Raviwan, director-general of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, said yesterday.

Phuket's Racha Yai Island is among the hardest hit along with six islands off Chumphon.

The rest are scattered across parts of Chumphon, Rayong, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Surat Thani and Satun.

The department plans to ban activities harmful to coral reefs in nine spots outside national parks next week.

"Among the nine spots are the Racha Yai and Mai Ton islands off Phuket, Man Nai Island off Rayong and Samaesarn Island off Chon Buri," he said.

Banned activities include dropping anchor, fishing and polluting.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral loses algal pigmentation due to water temperatures rising above 30 degrees Celsius, pollution or freshwater runoff.

Bleached coral can recover if the cause of bleaching is relieved, but it will die if it is bleached for a long time and the stress on the coral is not resolved.

"Our survey has found that at some spots, the seawater temperature is up to 33 degrees Celsius," he said.

Pinsak Suraswadi, a senior official at the department, said his agency would closely monitor the situation because seawater temperature had continued to rise even though summer was coming to an end.

"We will try to enforce measures to better protect the marine environment," he said.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy dean at the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University and a leading marine biologist, said coral reefs in other areas such as Samui and Samet islands and some parts of the Andaman Sea had also started to show bleaching spots.

"What we have to do is to keep people out of the bleaching area to let the coral recover. It is very essential that we should not interfere with the coral during this sensitive period or it will eventually die," he said.

The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department and Marine and Coastal Resources Department will restrict human activities in 40 spots to preserve healthy coral to be breeders.

Tachai Island in Phang Nga's Mu Koh Similan National Park is also closed indefinitely to let the island's environment recover from intensive tourism in recent years, national park head Nut Kongkasorn said.

"I cannot say when we will allow tourists to visit the island, but before we open the island again, the number of tourists must be limited and the tourism activities must not harm the island's environment," he said.

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