Thailand’s New Environmental Law

A new law aimed at curbing environmental damage will go into effect in July on the Thai islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

The new measures will include a strict ban for at least the next two years on the feeding of marine life, wastewater dumping, fishing or anchoring on coral reefs, walking on the seabed, and new seaside construction, according to Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources Director Jatuporn Burutphat.

The government initiative follows a no-smoking and no-littering law that was enacted on the islands a few months ago. The moves to restore the coral reefs on the three islands have been widely applauded and follow closely on the heels of beach and island closures in the Andaman Sea to allow fish stocks, coral and the environment to recover. One of Thailand’s most popular attractions, Maya Beach, famous for its scenes in the Hollywood movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo Di Caprio, is among those destinations currently off limits to visitors.

Previously known as “Coconut Island” and home to but a handful of fishermen and farmers until the late 1970s, Koh Samui now receives more than a million visitors a year and produces some 250,000 tonnes of trash annually. The island’s only garbage incinerator has been broken for eight years.

Corals can reproduce either asexually through fragmentation/ budding or sexually, such as by spawning. When snorkelers or seabed walkers tread on coral, they damage the corals’ polyps, which prevents them from reproducing. Such is the deadly footprint tourists can unintentionally leave behind.

The islands of Samui, Phangan and Tao have combined coral reefs spanning over 10,000 acres. Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, supporting more species per unit area than any other marine environment.

Among the rare marine life found in the Gulf of Thailand’s sapphire-blue waters are turtles, dugongs, moray eels, reef sharks, seahorses, Irrawaddy dolphins and seven species of whale.

For now, all eyes will be focused on how rigorously the new environmental laws are enforced. Whether fisherman, tour operator or foreign backpacker, lawbreakers face stiff penalties – a maximum fine of US$3,000 and/or a one-year prison sentence.