Ten Thai dive sites shut over coral bleaching

Ten Thai dive sites shut over coral bleaching

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Ten Thai dive sites shut over coral bleaching. Thailand has shut down 10 popular diving sites in a bid to slow the current coral bleaching crisis, an official said yesterday. It’s a surprising and rare move that the decision was made to shun tourism profits in favor of protecting the environment.

The country’s southern coastline and string of islands are home to some of the world’s most prized white sand beaches and scuba sites, and the always-booming tourism industry does much to help the country’s economy.

But warming waters and ever-growing swarms of visitors have damaged coral reefs and local ecosystems.

The National Parks department has now indefinitely closed at least 10 diving spots after a survey found bleaching on up to 80 percent of some reefs.

“The coral reefs are affected by unaware tourists — when they go diving they may touch or step on the reef. Closing those spots will help the reefs recover naturally,” National Park Officer director Reungsak Theekasuk told AFP.

The now-closed dive sites lie off of beaches stretching from Rayong in the east to Satun in the south.

Coral bleaching, primarily caused by warming waters, has been wreaking havoc on the region for years.

It occurs when coral comes under environmental stress —extremely strong sunlight or warmer sea temperatures, for example — and responds by shedding the algae that gives it its famed, brilliant colors.

Coral can survive bleaching, but it becomes more vulnerable to further damage while the condition persists.

Reungsak said the closed dive sites will be inspected ahead of peak tourist season, which starts in November, for possible re-opening.

“Where we see there is still a crisis, we will have to keep the area and reefs preserved,” he said.

The parks department also recently ordered the closure of Koh Tachai, a popular island in the Andaman Sea, to let it recover from environmental damage caused by overcrowding.

Thailand’s vital tourism industry remains one of the few economic bright spots as the junta-led government struggles to kickstart the kingdom’s stumbling economy.

Tourism accounts for around 10 percent of Thailand’s economy, and officials have said they hope to attract 32 million visitors in 2016.

Story: AFP

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