Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jun 16

“Streaming” at Lentor
a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Life History of the Chestnut Angle
Butterflies of Singapore

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Indonesia rebuffs Singapore on haze again

Tama Salim The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

Indonesia has rejected a request by the Singaporean government for access to information on companies suspected of causing annual haze and has called on the city state to deal with the issue under the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP).

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry maintained that the agreement, signed in 2002 and ratified by all ASEAN countries by 2014, was the most effective tool to tackle the haze issue, which the ASEAN expected to be solved by 2020.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said the agreement provided a platform for devising collective efforts to prevent, monitor and mitigate transboundary haze, set up region-wide quick response measures and establish legal means of cooperation.

“We encourage all ASEAN members to use this mechanism to address the issue of transboundary haze in our region,” he said.

Arrmanatha added that at the national level, the Indonesian government had made progress in mitigating the haze problem, which occurs in Sumatra, Kalimantan and some other parts of the country every year.

The ministry’s spokesman was responding to Singapore’s bid to obtain information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia.

Earlier, Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) had issued a statement demanding prosecution of companies linked to last year’s fires, regardless of their origin.

The MEWR said the companies’ blatant disregard for the environmental and social consequences of the haze, which affected millions of people in the region, should not go unchecked.

It said actions under Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) were aimed at deterring and prosecuting entities responsible for transboundary haze pollution.

“Indonesia should welcome this additional tool to curtail irresponsible activities that have affected the health, social and economic well-being of Indonesians and people in the region,” an MEWR spokesperson said.

The law allows regulators to sue individuals or companies in neighboring countries that cause severe air pollution in Singapore through agricultural slash-and-burn practices.

It was first proposed in 2013 after a huge rise in the number of forest fires in the neighboring Indonesian province of Riau caused thick smoke that blanketed Singapore in a choking haze.

Previously, Indonesia raised concerns that the THPA would disregard individuals’ rights to legal and consular assistance abroad, after procedures pursued by Singapore involving an unnamed Indonesian private executive went awry.

Last month, Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) asked a local court to issue an arrest warrant against the director of an Indonesian company who had failed to turn up for questioning with authorities in Singapore, an act that evoked a strong reaction from Jakarta.

The businessperson, who has since left the country, may be detained “for the purpose of investigations” if they try to reenter the country, an NEA spokesman said.

The NEA’s actions are part of a previous attempt to glean information on six Indonesian private firms’ environmental responsibilities with regard to their respective land concessions.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has lashed out at Singapore, saying the country could not “tread on the realm of law that was under Indonesia” and that Singapore “did not respect Indonesia”.

Separately, Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore Ngurah Swajaya said Indonesia was ready to work with Singapore to prevent future forest and peatland fires, but he also wanted the Singaporean government to acknowledge what local authorities in the country had already achieved.

Smoke from fires last year sent air pollution to record levels, resulting in at least 19 deaths from haze-related illnesses and more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory diseases.

The World Bank estimates that the fires and haze caused at least US$16 billion in economic losses to Indonesia alone.

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Malaysia: Hail can occur three times a year

BERNAMA New Straits Times 19 Jun 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The hail which hit the capital earlier this month can occur three times a year, says Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Madius Tangau.

“Hail is not an unusual phenomenon, but it’s very rare in our country.

Based on our records, it can occur with a frequency of one to three times in a year,” he told Bernama here.

Madius said the phenomenon results when there is a strong thunderstorm and when the cumulonimbi clouds (the main source of the formation of thunderstorms) reached a height of 40,000 feet.

“When the temperature goes below freezing point, the rain drops become ice lumps sized between five millimetres or 1.5 centimetre, about the size of a marble.

“Hail usually occurs locally around areas under cumulonimbus clouds and lasts for a relatively short time, which is about 20 minutes,” he said.

In the hailstorm that hit the capital on the evening of June 3, Petaling Jaya Meteorological Station records show rain measuring 60.2mm and winds of up to 46.8 kilometres per hour was the cause of the phenomenon.

Madius advised people facing similar hail incidents to stay away from the window and immediately seek refuge in a safe place.

“If in a vehicle, make sure you park under a bridge or a sturdy structure,” added Madius. --BERNAMA

MJO phenomenon cause of excessive rainfall in Klang Valley
BERNAMA New Straits Times 19 Jun 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The excessive rainfall recently, especially in the Klang Valley has been due to the impact of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) phenomenon, says an expert.

Climatology and Oceanography Specialist from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang said the country was currently in the midst of the Southwest monsoon season, and the weather should be hot and dry.

“The MJO phenomenon is part of climate variability between seasons in tropical regions that oscillate with the frequency of once in 20 to 60 days, which occurs in eight phases.

“MJO occurs as a result of interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere, which causes a large-scale atmospheric convection system in the western part of the Indian Ocean which moves eastward across the Pacific Ocean, crossing Malaysia and Indonesia,” he told Bernama here.

He said this when asked to comment on the massive rainfall occurring in the Klang Valley in the late afternoons, including some unusual storms, of late.

In the meantime, Fredolin said through studies conducted, the Southwest monsoon season between June to August has been found to yield higher rainfall in the west coast, compared to the east.

He said based on the report from the Climate Prediction Centre at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, MJO would occur in the Indian Ocean with large-scale increase in atmospheric convection in the first week of this month, and was currently in phase 3.

“This situation has led to the high rainfall rate currently experienced, similar to that in April and May, where the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia usually experiences rain in the afternoon, until late at night.

“However, this situation will only last for another one to two weeks, when the phenomenon moves more towards the east, and the centre of the convection passes our region,” he said.

He added that the country was expected to experience warmer and drier weather once MJO shifted eastwards, in phases 4 to 7 of the phenomenon. --BERNAMA

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Indonesia: Weather agency warns of heavy rain over weekend

The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned people to be wary about potential natural disasters as a result of the heavy downpours expected to recur over the weekend.

The BMKG has predicted there will be heavy rain from June 17 to 20 in several areas in Indonesia based on atmospheric indications, Yunus S. Swarinoto, meteorology deputy at the agency said in a press statement on Friday.

There is also potential for thunder storms and high winds during the rain, Yunus said.

"We strongly urge people to be aware of potential flooding, flash floods, landslides and fallen trees," he said in the statement.

Areas predicted to have a high intensity of rain include Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau, Bengkulu, Bangka Belitung, South Sumatra, Lampung, Jakarta, Banten, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, Maluku and Papua.

The BMKG has also warned sea transportation operators to watch out for heavy rain and heavy swells in the southern part of Sumatra, Java, Bali and East Nusa Tenggara.

People can contact the BMKG on its 24-hour call center 021-6546315/18 to get the latest information on weather forecasts or log on to its official website (rin)

Padang airport inoperable due to extreme weather
Syofiardi Bachyul Jb The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

Extreme rainfall over Padang, West Sumatra, from Thursday night until early Friday morning forced Minangkabau International Airport (BIM) to cease its operations for over seven hours.

The heavy downpour triggered flooding that inundated thousands of houses across the city, forcing people to evacuate. At over half a meter deep, floodwaters also submerged most of the city’s roads, paralyzing traffic.

One person is reported to have died due to the disaster.

BIM spokesperson Yoserizal said the airport was unable to operate from 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. local time, forcing three flights to be diverted to Medan, North Sumatra, and three to Pekanbaru, Riau. A further four flights failed to take off.

“The weather caused unfavorable landing conditions,” Yoserizal told The Jakarta Post, adding that diverted flights included those of Garuda Indonesia, Batik Air, Citilink and Lion Air.

Irene, a West Sumatra Health Agency employee, a passenger of the Garuda Indonesia flight that departed from Jakarta at 4 p.m., said that when the plane was about to land in Padang at 5:55 p.m., it had circled over the airport before finally diverting to the Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru.

Irene said they waited for about half an hour in Pekanbaru before the plane returned to Padang but, as the plane still could not land at BIM, it returned to Pekanbaru and stayed there for another half an hour.

“The flight back to Padang was finally able to land in Padang at 1:30 a.m.,” she said.

Weather agency head Budi Iman Samiaji said the planes could not land at BIM because the rainfall was extreme, leaving a visibility of only 250 meters for five hours.

“It was impossible for a plane to land. A plane can only land if there is visibility of over 900 meters,” said Budi, the head of information and observation at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Padang branch in Ketaping

Rainfall at the airport reached 368 mm. At Teluk Bayur Port it was 305 mm for 12 hours and 167 mm for three hours. This was categorized as very extreme, 100 mm is considered to be extreme.

“Extreme weather occurred in almost all regions along the west coast of West Sumatra and the Mentawai Islands,” said Budi, predicting that rain would continue to fall in Padang and surrounding areas but suggested that the intensity would decrease.

Disaster mitigation official Rivalno Pagar Negara said 20 rubber boats had been deployed to evacuate people trapped in houses inundated by floodwaters across Padang.

Over 1,000 houses are reported to have been inundated in Padang, in 14 subdistricts, with floodwaters recorded at up to two meters deep, from Thursday evening until Friday morning.

A 63-year-old resident of the Arai Pinang residential complex is reported to have died after he slipped during the evacuation and caught a chill.

A major road connecting Padang and Bengkulu was blocked due to landslides in three locations in Painan, South Pesisir.

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Indonesia: Govt to put moratorium on firms with idle concessions

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

Soon, palm oil and forestry resource companies will be forbidden from starting any activities on any of their concessions that are idle, as the government plans to expand a moratorium on peatland use in a bid to curb the annual land and forest fires.

The government is currently revising Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No. 8/2015 on a permit moratorium for primary forests and peatlands, which has been in effect since May last year.

The moratorium on clearing primary forests and peatlands was first introduced by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2010 and was extended by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo through the Inpres last year.

The original moratorium only banned permits to be issued allowing the use of peatland that has not yet been turned into concessions.

However, following Jokowi’s instructions, the Inpres will be revised once again to impose a total moratorium on the use of peatland, including land that has been turned into concessions but left idle.

Jokowi called for a stronger moratorium because 10 people, mostly children, were killed by smoke pollution from last year’s fires.

“The President has announced that for the concession holders of areas have not been cultivated yet, they will not be able to cultivate them once the new moratorium is in place,” Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) planning and cooperation deputy Budi Wardhana said.

Therefore, the total amount of peatland affected by the moratorium will increase. Currently, there are 8.4 million hectares of peatland affected by the moratorium, out of a total of 20.6 million ha of peatland in the country.

“The BRG itself estimates that there are 4.4 million hectares of peatland in concession areas that should be put under moratorium,” Budi said.

Environment and Forestry Ministry secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono said the revision of the moratorium was being discussed in the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister.

“If possible the revision will be finished in one or two months,” he said, adding that all ministries must have agreed to the revision considering how it was an instruction from the President.

The moratorium on peatland use is a part of the government’s effort to reduce rampant slash-and-burn practices in peatland areas, which have largely caused the annual land and forest fires in the archipelago.

Besides the moratorium, the government also recently started a nationwide effort to restore more than 2 million hectares of peatland in the next five years through the establishment of the BRG.

Much of the burden to restore the environmental damage to peatland lies with the private sector, which is in control of concession areas as 531 companies are operating in areas to be restored. A mapping by the BRG
revealed that as many as 2.7 million ha of peatland had to be restored in the next five years to prevent the recurring land and forest fires.

Out of the 2.7 million ha, 87 percent of them, 2.3 million ha, are in concession areas.

Since the majority of the restoration areas are in concession areas, the BRG has to work closely with companies as they are the ones that have to do the restoration work with their own money.

BRG head Nazir Foead said most firms had cooperated with the agency by submitting their data and maps.

The country’s largest pulp and paper producer, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), initially refused to submit its documents directly to the BRG. APP finally submitted its documents to the BRG on June 13.

“The documents are complete now and we will verify this data together,” said Budi.

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Indonesia: Judges blamed for lenient sentences in forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

A lack of understanding among judges in environmental cases has led to companies and individuals, allegedly responsible for the annual land and forest fires in Indonesia, escaping serious sanction.

Recently, the North Jakarta District Court found palm oil company PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (JJP), affiliated with agribusiness giant Wilmar Group, responsible for slash-and-burn activities on its concession in 2013.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry, the plaintiff in the case, believed that the total burned area was 1,000 hectares, while the panel of judges believed that only 120 ha had been burned.

Therefore, the court ordered PT JJP to pay only Rp 7.2 billion (US$540,000) in damages as well as Rp 22.2 billion in recovery costs, less than the Rp 491 billion demanded by the ministry.

The ministry plans to appeal the case, as the fine was far lower than that demanded and given the fact that the company had been planting oil palm trees on the burned concession.

PT JJP lawyer Efrizal H. Sharief said his client was not guilty of causing the fire as it was a result of slash-and-burn activities carried out by local people. This argument led to the panel of judges only ruling on the 120 ha, since they believed that the rest of the burned concession was caused by locals.

Efrizal also argued that the company should not have been required to pay any fines given that the concession could still be cultivated and thus there must have been no environmental damage.

The same reasoning was used by Parlas Nababan, the chair of a three-judge panel in Palembang district court, South Sumatra, in his controversial ruling on pulpwood plantation company PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH).

He declared the company was not guilty of causing fires on a 20,000-ha plot in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra in 2014, saying that there was no evidence of environmental damage as the burned land could still be planted.

The controversial verdict caused public uproar, with many saying that Parlas’ reasoning was not logical.

Nonetheless, Parlas was appointed as the head of the Palangkaraya High Court in Central Kalimantan earlier this month.

“There’s a problem with the Supreme Court, which doesn’t have any awareness in cases like this. Parlas had a bad reputation in environmental cases because his judgement was so bad, and yet he was transferred to Palangkaraya, which handles more complex environmental cases,” Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) deputy director Reynaldo Sembiring told The Jakarta Post.

The cases of PT BMH and PT JJP are among a recent series of cases where the government decided to appeal because the results were not satisfactory.

“Starting from 2015 to early 2016, many environmental cases were not being presided over by judges with environmental certificates, such as those of PT BMH and PT LIH,” Reynaldo said.

He was referring to the case of PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo (LIH), whose manager, Frans Katihotang, was declared not guilty on all charges by the Pangkalan Kerinci District Court.

At an earlier court hearing, prosecutors charged the defendant with negligence for an act that eventually caused fires on PT LIH’s concession in 2015, but the panel of judges said witness testimony did not support the charges.

Reynaldo believed that the presiding judge delivered the not-guilty verdict because he was not certified. The same applied to the PT BMH case.

“His reasoning was not satisfactory because he’s clearly not a judge specializing in environmental cases. From these two cases, we can see that environmental cases need special handling by certified judges,” he said.

Last year, the number of judges with environmental certification stood at 219, with the government planning to increase this number by working with the Supreme Court.

A certified judge has greater understanding of environmental laws and cases and thus is more likely to use the concept of strict liability, which experts believe is the key in upholding justice in environmental cases.

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Thailand: Tourism adding heat to bleaching emergency

Thailand's coral reefs are in trouble, and the country's reliance on foreign visitors poses a major threat to their survival
PARITTA WANGKIAT Bangkok Post 19 Jun 16;

A Chinese woman was perplexed when she saw that her luggage was causing concern as it passed through an X-ray scanner at Don Mueang airport.

She reached for a red plastic bag after it had passed through the machine, but a young airport security official snatched it and said "No!"
A group of her friends were waiting nearby. They were puzzled too. Some of them wore floral clothes indicating they had been on holidays at the beach.

"You're not allowed to carry this back home," the official insisted. He tried to explain the situation for about a minute, but the woman eventually passed through the security area without being fined or charged and without the red bag.

When the security official opened the plastic bag, a piece of white, dead coral about the size of an outstretched hand was inside. It was still damp with seawater.

That happened two weeks ago, and came amid wider fears that coral bleaching caused by human interaction and warming waters could decimate reefs in Thailand and across the globe.

On June 7, Krabi International Airport said it had seized 171 kilogrammes of coral from tourists in the departure terminal -- in the space of just one month. Over 10 types of corals such as brain, staghorn and hump were found. Even though the removal of coral from the ocean can carry heavy fines and even jail terms, airport officials said most tourists did not know it was illegal. Many said they had taken the coral as a souvenir.

Government marine biologist Nalinee Thongtham, who has monitored a recent surge in severe coral bleaching in Thailand, says tourists behaving badly is just as detrimental to the sensitive organism as global warming.

"Coral bleaching is certainly caused by global warming," said Ms Nalinee, who is based at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre. "But the chance for it to recover relies on human inactivity. Coral's overexposure to tourism and pollution will leave it with only a small chance to survive."


The most recent El Nino event, which began around the middle of 2014, has seen sea temperatures rise across much of the planet. Severe damage occurred at one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Australia's 2,300km Great Barrier Reef, where scientists say 35% of coral in its northern and central sections has been destroyed by bleaching.

"For many areas around the globe, the damage from this [El Nino] event has been the worst ever," said Mark Eakin, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an American scientific agency.

"Because this event has gone on for so long, about half of the locations stressed by this event have been hit twice already," he told Spectrum. "Some may be hit three times before the event is over."

Bleaching is caused when water is too warm, forcing coral to expel the algae living in their tissues and causing them to turn completely white. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Coral can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.

Reef Watch's bleaching models, based on satellite images and sea surface temperatures, indicate Thai waters will continue to be unusually warm for the next two months. The worst bleaching is likely to occur in the Gulf of Thailand, but bleaching is likely to continue on Andaman Sea reefs as well.

According to the NOAA, Thailand and Southeast Asia suffered severe bleaching in 1998, 2010, 2015 and this year.

While 1998, 2015 and 2016 were strong El Nino years, 2010 was a mild El Nino, suggesting the regular climate event is not the sole cause of bleaching.

"As we have raised the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, most of the excess heat has been absorbed by the ocean. That raises the baseline temperature of the ocean, making it easier for smaller climate anomalies to cause mass coral bleaching," Mr Eakin said.

"Thailand and Southeast Asia are likely to see more frequent and severe coral bleaching in years not associated with El Nino."

Since early this year, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources has recorded high sea temperatures of between 32C and 33C in many coastal areas. The highest temperature for Thai waters this year was recorded on May 11 at 33.85C.

The threshold for coral bleaching is 30.5C, according to the DMCR. Severe bleaching was reported in the Gulf of Thailand in March, with Ma Prao Island in Chumphon the worst affected with up to 80% of the coral bleached.

Bleaching was later reported around Koh Samui, then spread to the Andaman Sea in April affecting more than 50% of coral in Racha Yai, Racha Noi and Mai Ton islands off the Phuket coast, as well as parts of the Phi Phi islands in Krabi and Hat Chao Mai National Park in Trang.
The DMCR found 81 sites had suffered bleaching, 48 of which were classified as critical.


Despite the US agency's warning of rising sea temperatures over the next two months, Ms Nalinee said the ocean has in fact cooled by one to two degrees recently due to the subsiding of El Nino.

Ms Nalinee has surveyed some diving sites and found colour pigmentation returning to some bleached coral. But this hasn't reassured her that all coral will recover fully.

In 2010, Thailand was hit by its most severe bout of coral bleaching. About 70% of coral in the Andaman Sea, covering 80 square kilometres, was damaged. Between 30% and 95% of the affected coral died.

Ms Nalinee said human activity also plays a major role in the coral's chances of recovering.

Coral growth in areas with intense human activity, especially tourism, is already weak and the problem only worsens when warmer water arrives, she said.

She noted a "unique" snorkelling spot off Phangnga's Koh Khai Island, where visitors could see large plains of staghorn coral in 2008. Six years after the 2010 bleaching event, only 20% of the coral survives.

Koh Khai Island, covering an area of only about 10 rai, has been intensely exploited by tourism. More than 40 tourist boats flock there each day during peak seasons, throwing their anchors onto the brittle reef below.

Tourists feed fish and pollute the once pristine waters. Some step on the coral, or collect pieces from the sea floor to take home as souvenirs. Tour guides rarely give instructions on not damaging the coral.

Similar tales of coral struggling to recover after the 2010 bleaching were reported at other popular tourist islands, including Similan and Surin islands, and Phuket and Phi Phi islands, which have long suffered problems with tourist wastewater being discharged directly into the sea.

Damage to coral from bleaching, which was aggravated by human activity, was worse than the harm caused to Thailand's reefs by the 2004 tsunami, according to a DMCR report.

"Tourism is the main revenue source for the Thai economy. But without good management of that tourism, coral will likely not survive," said Ms Nalinee.

The situation prompted some marine experts and environmentalists to call for the shutdown of several at-risk islands, as well as caps on tourist numbers.


More than 28 million foreign tourists visited Thailand last year. That number is expected to jump to 45 million in 2020 and 67 million in 2030, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

More than half of the visitors come for "ocean tourism", raising concern about the ability of coral to survive the increased strain.

Every year, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) closes down islands and coral reefs far off the coast during the monsoon season to allow the areas time to recover.

But reefs near the coast, such as off Phi Phi Island, remain open year-round.

"In fact, Thailand has never announced a shutdown of any bleaching sites," said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine expert from Kasetsart University's Fisheries faculty.

"There's concern from local people who depend solely on tourism for their living. It's something that we have to think a lot about before taking action. Tourism will have to continue with strong measures to prevent damage to nature."

Only about 1% of coral surrounding Phi Phi Island recovered after the 2010 bleaching, which Mr Thon said was an indication of the need to better manage tourism activities.

He launched the "Phi Phi Model" as a way to involve local tour operators in the protection of marine wildlife, which started by campaigning to stop selling sharks and parrot fish as meals for tourists.

Two months ago, Mr Thon pushed the government to indefinitely shut down coral sites at Tachai Island off Phangnga and Koh Young off Phi Phi Island, where coral has been seriously damaged by tourist activities. Both areas have also been affected by recent bleaching.

The government's move only came after reaching an agreement with local tour operators.

Mr Thon said another snorkelling site near Thale Waek and four dive sites near Phi Phi Island, including Whaleshark Wall, will be closed to help the coral recover.

Another major problem is the lack of marine scientists at the DNP, which manages marine national parks around the country. Mr Thon said there is only one marine scientist working for the DNP, while at least 20 were needed to manage marine tourism sites alone.

In response to the coral bleaching, the DNP plans to close down more than 10 dive spots, but it has yet to specify where and when.

Last month, the DMCR issued an urgent regulation to restrict tourist activities in coral bleaching areas including Koh Man Nai off the Rayong coast, Koh Khai in Chumphon, Racha Yai Island, Mai Ton Island and Laem Panwa in Phuket.

Tourists can visit the areas but are prohibited from catching animals, feeding fish and picking up and stepping on coral.

Tour operators were instructed not to throw anchors into coral areas or dump garbage and wastewater into the ocean.

A Chinese tourist, 45, was the first to be charged under this new regulation after officials found he had fed fish in Phangnga to attract them for a photo opportunity.

He faced a maximum penalty of a year in jail or a 100,000 baht fine or both. Bail was set at 100,000 baht.

But he was eventually let off with a 2,000 baht fine, which the presiding judge slashed in half due to the defendant's guilty plea.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, which monitors global bleaching, said stress from tourism, pollution and overfishing was not the only factor that affects coral recovery.

"Unfortunately, mass coral bleaching events like we are currently experiencing are predicted to become almost annual events within the next 20 years unless we deal with the problem of fossil fuels," he said.

"We must have a renewable energy revolution to reduce the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere."

Unless both climate change and local stresses are addressed, Mr Hoegh-Guldberg believes those working in ocean-related tourism industries will not have careers within 20 years.

The current spate of very warm weather in the Pacific and Indian oceans suggests a lot of coral will die over the next couple of months. In this case, he said, it will take between 10 and 20 years for coral populations to grow back.

This will have serious consequences for countries like Thailand which depend on people coming to see the beautiful coral, he said, as well as reducing food sources for millions of people throughout Southeast Asia as reefs become sick and die.

"This is now a global emergency, and must be treated as such by all governments on the planet," he said.

Coral reefs in the southwest are at risk of bleaching over the next two months, in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. This is the forecast as of Monday.

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