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Marine Dept probes 'sea-walker' tours

Responding to reports of damage to coral and wildlife caused by an unauthorised undersea tourist attraction in Phuket, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) will survey waters around Phuket's Koh Hae and Phang Nga's Koh Khai.

The move follows online criticism stemming from a Facebook user's post about Phuket's "sea-walker" tour. The post describes the 30-minute tour, in which customers don diving helmets to walk a six-metre-deep path and get the opportunity to be photographed holding starfish and corals. There are reportedly three operators of such tours on Koh Hae (Coral Island). Each operator has created undersea paths marked by buoys, where starfish and corals are handed out to some 100 visitors per day in exchange for an extra fee of several hundred baht for snapshots.

DMCR chief Withoon Chalayonnawin said he had despatched investigation teams after receiving complaints from wildlife conservationists two weeks ago about the Koh Heh and Koh Khai "sea-walker" tours. Withoon said he would inspect one of the sights in person today, as the tours were not licensed by any state agency, and could violate laws in place to protect starfish and corals.

A DMCR source said the agency was checking the Koh Hae "sea-walker" operator's claim that it had gained permission for the tour from the Tourist Business and Guide Registration Office under the Tourism and Sport Ministry prior to Phuket gaining protected-environment status in 2003. The agency was also checking whether damage to marine resources warranted a request to the Tourism Department and Phuket Governor to revoke any such permission. Each "sea-walker" operator could be fined up to Bt500,000 if it is found to be violating the law.

A "sea-walker" tour also operates on Chon Buri's Koh Lan.


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