Tourists travelling to Thailand to dive at popular marine parks may be in for some disappointment, with Thai authorities having indefinitely banned the water sport activity in an effort to protect fragile coral reefs. Around 22 spots in the parks, located on the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand, will be subject to the ban. The ban has been put in regions where 80% or more of the coral reefs suffer from "bleaching" - which is when corals undergo stress and force out the algae that reside in them and which give them colour.
The new ban will most definitely affect the country's tourist industry, which has been burgeoning over the years - with close to 16 million international travellers expected in 2010. According to Sunan Arunnopparat, chief of the National Parks Department, coral regeneration will be noted before the ban can be lifted. Tour operators, members of the public, and tourists, will be educated on the situation through a campaign, Mr Sunan has said. The country's authorities will also take action against illegal fishing.
Bleaching makes coral more vulnerable to damage by divers and boat anchors, and this stress over a long period of time can result in the death of the coral. The issue, which is fuelled by a change in water temperatures, increasing sedimentation and acidity in the water, could completely kill coral, affecting the habitat and food supply of its fish. Though the coral may recover with the return of algae, it will still be very fragile and weak.