A NEW centre to oversee national marine resources in Thailand has been set up by the Resources and Environment Ministry to tackle the illegal harvesting of coral and marine animals.
After local people found that a giant coral at Koh Wiang Island in Chumphon had been broken in an attempt to harvest it on Tuesday, Natural Resources and Environment Minister General Surasak Karnjanarat yesterday announced the establishment of the Marine Resource Protection Centre to prevent such incidents.
The damaged coral was a large disc coral about five metres wide and weighing about 1,000 kilograms. It is estimated to be more than 100 years old and a major underwater attraction at Koh Wiang Island.
Surasak said the attempt to remove the coral at Chumphon must have been organised so the ministry would go on the offensive and set up the centre to tackle criminal behaviour.
“If we do nothing, we will lose our valuable treasures in the sea. It will be a joint operation centre between the Marine and Coastal Resources Department officers, police, Navy and the local authorities to take care of our marine resources,” he said.
Surasak also said the centre would prioritise at-risk areas where coral and marine animals were threatened and increase guards in those areas, while in the longer term there would be a investigation to track down marine-animal smuggling networks.
Marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat said the attempt to remove the giant coral was an imminent threat to the marine ecosystem in a trend that is growing more frequent.
Thon said that recently, patches of newly grown coral in Chonburi had been removed, while authorities have failed to apprehend the culprits. There is speculation that there is a network supplying marine life to private aquariums in the country and overseas.
“This is a serious criminal offence, as coral is a protected organism and smuggling coral has similar penalties as smuggling tiger parts,” he said.
“However, this news shows a good sign as local people reported the incident to the police, showing that they have an awareness to protect marine resources.”
Jiamjit Somsorn, a local tour operator, said she was very sad to learn that the giant coral had been damaged because it was the main attraction for island tourism.
She said that many natural resources on the island had been harmed besides the coral, such as giant clams that had been killed for their meat and shells.