By Pongphon Sarnsamak
More than a third of all coral reefs near coastal areas around the country have been destroyed by sediment from land developments to build hotels, resorts and private homes.
The area of destroyed reef totals more than 35,520 rai – in excess of 14,200 acres – of 96,000 rai of reef along coastal areas, according to the 2009 national strategic/action plan to protect coastal reefs.
On the Andaman coast, about half (50 per cent) the coral reefs covering 49,000 rai were degraded, while about a quarter (24 per cent) of 47,000 rai of reefs in the Gulf of Thailand were destroyed.
Land projects on coastal areas were the main destroyer of coral reefs, according to Pinsak Surasawadee, a director of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department’s Office of Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation.
“The removal of land surfaces in coastal areas has sped up the amount of sediment flowing into the sea, affecting reefs, and aquatic animals and plants,” he explained.
The large amount of sediment in the sea had also blocked sunlight and affected the growth of coral.
“The problem is many builders do not follow guidelines for the environmental impact assessment, which require them to construct sediment retention to prevent soil flowing into the sea,” he said.
The sea watch agency found that coral reefs around three islands in Surat Thani province – Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Koh Tao – were severely damaged by a huge amount of sediment, as was Phuket Island and Koh Yao.
“We have been discussed this problem with the department to try to find effective ways to reduce the impact from coastal development, especially in Phuket, which has areas designated for environmental protection, but law enforcement has never been implemented,” he said.
Department officials had no authority to arrest wrongdoers who caused damage to coral reefs and marine resources.
The Marine and Coastal Resources Department wants the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning to revise the regulation, to give its staff more authority under the 1992 Environmental Act, so they can arrest wrongdoers.