The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) is calling for people – Thai or foreign – to volunteer as “Marine Rangers” in order to protect coral reefs and other coastal areas, including mangroves, from damage by irresponsible tour operators or other unscrupulous parties.
“We need more Marine Rangers who have pure hearts to protect coral reefs, protected marine animals, mangroves and other valuable natural resources along the west coast of Thailand, including Phuket,” DMCR Director-General Jatuporn Buruspat told The Phuket News this week.
“We don’t have enough officers to cover all marine resources, especially those around Phuket. We want to improve the quality of the protection of our natural resources, with protection for all areas where human activities affect the marine environment,” Mr Jatuporn explained.
“We are open to Thais and foreigners joining this project. The more people, the better. We have not even set a limit on how many people can become Marine Rangers,” he added.
Under the Marine Ranger project, which was first launched in March last year, volunteers register with the DMCR. After their applications are approved, Marine Rangers are issued an official ID card and can directly report any complaints or activities damaging marine sites to the DMCR through a web portal.
From there, other Marine Rangers and DMCR officials in the area communicate through a LINE group, and local DMCR officials can launch an investigation into any serious complaints.
In addition to supporting marine officials with light public exercises such as clean-ups, joining events and helping with reef-restoration projects, Marine Rangers are empowered to assist officials with conducting investigations and provide support in developing marine conservation projects.
They are also empowered to work closely with officials and assist in investigations under the supervision of officials who have the power to arrest offenders.
Chat Chalarat, head of the Participation Promotion Department at the DMCR Region 9 office, told The Phuket News that the key areas where Marine Rangers are needed around Phuket are Coral Island, Koh Mai Thon and the Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands.
“I worry very much about how human activities, both people living here and tourists, are affecting the local marine environment,” Mr Chat said.
“We want to show people the impact they are having with corals being broken, bleached and damaged by tourism activities, how sea grass areas are being depleted and marine animals in reef areas are being affected,” he added.
According to the Marine Rangers official website (click here), there are 159 registered volunteers in Phuket and Phang Nga has a healthy 266.
In comparison, Surat Thani province, home to Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan, has 72.
Woefully, Krabi province, home to Phi Phi Island and Maya Bay, has just 17.
“We still need more people to join us. Right now we have about 400 volunteers in our area who have registered to help protect marine and coastal resources – but we have only about 20 marine officials, that is not enough,” Mr Chat said.
“But with volunteers covering different areas, they can help us by sending pictures, videos and reports. We can speed up our response to any incidents, and we can save resources and time,” he said.
Registering online through the main Marine Rangers portal, which launched only two weeks ago, is simple, but the website is still in Thai-language only. (See website here.)
However, Mr Chat pointed out, “An English version is under construction right now.”
“In the meantime, foreigners wanting to register can call the DMCR at 02-14111392 or 02-1411394,” he said.
The push to boost the Marine Ranger network comes as specialists from the Department of Natural Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) discovered that some 10% of coral off Nai Yang Beach is dead because of bleaching while 30% more is damaged.
The discovery was made during a joint inspection by the Phuket Marine National Park Operation Center 2 and Sirinath National Park last Thursday (May 16).
“Officers from the Phuket Marine National Park Operation Center 2 and Sirinath National Park checked the condition of coral at the depth of 1.5 to five metres off Nai Yang beach. We found that 10% of Staghorn Coral, Hump Coral, Cauliflower Coral and Mushroom Coral were killed by bleaching. Some 30% is damaged by bleaching, but still alive,” one of the officers confirmed to The Phuket News.
Still the forecast is optimistic due to changing weather conditions.
“We found that the water temperature in this area has already begun to decrease. So far it has fallen down to 29ºC from 31ºC on Apr 30,” the officer said.
“We expect the situation to improve. Cloudy sky, rains, strong winds, high waves – all may help coral to survive,” the officer added.
No specific date for the next inspection was set as it all depends on the weather conditions.
Additional reporting by Waranya Prompinpiras