These crackdowns are often published in advance, are mostly for show, and thus end up with little lasting effect. Things invariably end up back the way they were.
Therefore, anytime we hear of a big “crackdown” or “clean up” of some big problem plaguing the island, it must be met with cautious optimism. But things may be changing.
At no point in history has the state of our oceans been so dire, and the need for action so great. This week the Global Ocean Commission released their Final Report. Their opening paragraph outlines the urgency simply and poignantly:
“It is no exaggeration that all life on Earth, including our own survival, depends on a healthy, vibrant ocean. Containing an almost unfathomable diversity of life; billions of us rely on it for food, clean air, a stable climate, rain and fresh water, transport and energy, recreation and livelihoods.
Our ocean is in decline. Habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification are pushing the ocean system to the point of collapse.
Governance is woefully inadequate, and on the high seas, anarchy rules the waves. Technological advance, combined with a lack of regulation, is widening the gap between rich and poor as those countries that can, exploit dwindling resources while those that can’t experience the consequences of those actions.
Regional stability, food security, climate resilience, and our children’s future are all under threat.”
All is true, and reflects the situation in Thai waters pretty well. So what do we do about it? Well, we must think globally and act locally.
If we use the recent success of the tuk tuk/taxi mafia “crackdown” as an example, under our benevolent dictator “Uncle” Pryuth, we may now have the best chance ever of achieving lasting change for Phuket and the Andaman Sea.
The general has recently made some big promises in the area of environmental protection, and has even appealed for input from public and private sectors on how to improve Thailand. For this reason, several local marine conservationists, myself included, are creating a petition which will be signed by over 40 researchers, NGOs, and others involved in marine conservation in the Andaman region.
The petition will be addressed not only to General Pyuth and the NCPO, but also to the heads of each department responsible for marine protection in the Andaman region, and will be written in both Thai and English. Signatories of the petition will not only be asking the government for action, but will also be pledging their commitment to work with those government bodies in achieving their goals.
The petition will outline the top dozen or so marine protection issues which, at a minimum, must be dealt with if there is to be any future of marine-based tourism in the Andaman region. The issues include:
•Enhancement and enforcement of existing laws in marine national parks, sanctuaries and fisheries.
•Reef protection in the form of enough and properly installed mooring lines for reef users.
•Better enforcement and stiffer penalties for boat-owners who anchor on coral.
•A list of required sustainable practices for reef users, reviewable by patrons and inspected periodically by government officials to ensure compliance.
•The end to illegally collected sea shell and coral trading businesses.
•Stronger penalties for poachers caught collecting coral or capturing reef fish destined for the black-market salt water aquarium trade.
•Stronger protection of shark, ray, dolphin and whale species.
•The island wide ban of shark fin soup and other shark-derived products.
•Stricter penalties and greater enforcement for resorts and businesses caught discharging pollution into klongs.
•Regulations requiring that builders and land owners prevent sediment run off from construction sites or other land stripped of vegetation.
•Trawlers should be required to use the “TED” (turtle excluder device) to prevent protected sea turtles and other large bycatch such as sharks, whales and dugongs from being injured or killed.
•Support beach and reef clean-up programs as well as anti-littering education.
Fishing and marine-based tourism supports countless Thai families, and responsible fisheries management will ensure there is food for future generations. This is just a partial list of the things that need to be done if there is any chance for a future in marine based tourism in the Andaman. Our oceans and the human race are intrinsically linked. The survival of both is up to us.
The GOC’s Final Report is at: http://www.globaloceancommission.org/