Much Needed protection For Phuket Reefs But Does it Go Far Enough?
Two popular Phuket reefs have been afforded extra protection. Fishing of any kind was banned at Shark Point and Koh Doc Mai from the 28th April 2021. The ban will be in place for 5 years, perpetrators can be fined up to THB 100,000 or face up to a year in jail. The fishing community have been informed so we don’t expect to see fishing of any kind from here on in….
A further 19 dive sites in 6 provinces have also been given the same level of protection. Apparently the proposal has been bouncing around from committee to committee for decades. It’s taken Thailand’s current Minister of Environment and Natural Resources to get the plan pushed through. Minister Varawut Silpa-archa has been a champion for Thailand’s seas since his appointment. Responsible for rescuing numerous environmental proposals from the abysmal depths of the committee trenches.
In reality the responsibility will once again fall on the dive community. The limited resources of the local DMCR office probably won’t allow regular patrols (although a decent telescope from Cape Panwa would do the job) so it will be up to the dive operators to
grass up report the rule breakers.
Every time we visit Koh Doc Mai there is somebody fishing, divers have even seen fisherman walking along the bottom at 20m. Using a rudimentary hose system to supply air, fisherman walk along the bottom with nets strung out between them. Shark Point was besieged by large fish traps after the covid lockdown in April 2020. Some dropped so close to the reef that corals were damaged.
Some Glaring Omissions
The extra protection for Phuket Reefs could easily extend to cover the nearby Anemone Reef and the King Cruiser Wreck. Multiple fishing nets have been removed from all of the dive sites after periods of no diving. They even managed to place a large fish trap on the deck of the King Cruiser Wreck.
The large trawler nets have probably drifted in from the open ocean, it’s very unlikely that trawlers would risk their valuable nets trying to get close to reefs. The more worrying trend is the amount of smaller nets that have been removed from dive sites. More than likely from small scale fisherman that are deliberately targeting the reefs and dive sites.
Racha Noi has the largest and healthiest staghorn coral beds of any dive location around Phuket. We lost most of our staghorn reefs in the 2010 coral bleaching event. There are signs of recovery on numerous dive sites but none more than Banana Rock at Racha Noi. Hundreds of damsels and juvenile fish use the staghorn as cover attracting predatory trumpet and lionfish.
At the south tip of Racha Noi is a manta ray cleaning station, the only diving site around Phuket that we regularly see the enigmatic ocean giants. Together with the now rare staghorn beds, Racha Noi deserves some level of protection. Fishing boats shelter in the bays during inclement weather, dropping trash and trashing corals. Again multiple fishing traps and nets have been removed over the last year.
People Got To Eat
The local fisherman have catching fish from the dive sites long before scuba was even invented so we can imagine that they’ll not be overly impressed by the ban on fishing activities. However the Thai government hasn’t ignored their needs. Thousands of concrete cubes have been dropped into the sea around Phuket. These artificial reefs attract fish and are mainly for the benefit of the local fisherman.
Sport fishing could benefit from uniform regulations. There are a few, mainly foreign operated companies that practice catch and release on their trips but the majority don’t. Everything that’s caught and edible will not go back in the ocean. There are few if any regulations regarding species, size or catch limits in Thailand. If you book a fishing trip, make sure they’re a catch and release outfit or at least impose some limits.
Divers Need To Be More Aware
The dive community in general do great work in removing nets, trash, reporting fish traps and coral damage and practising a no touch policy. Guests are asked not to touch anything and generally comply but some simply can’t, new divers either through poor instruction or lack of awareness do accidentally damage coral.
It’s hard in a service orientated industry to direct criticism at your customers but they can be politely reminded or steered in the direction of a Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty.
Underwater photographers, experienced or novice can be so focused on the image they’re trying to capture that they inadvertently damage the environment. Novice divers especially need to get their buoyancy right before starting photography. A rare few simply have no awareness and or ethics and don’t care if they cause damage to get their photo, no need to be polite with these selfish individuals.
A collective effort is required from fisherman, divers, government agencies, snorkelers and sailors to keep our Phuket reefs as healthy as possible for as long as possible. It can be done!
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