|The Coral Reefs of Thailand|
Tropical corals reefs the world over contain many of the same species of coral, fish and marine animals. Local conditions give rise to limited endemic species and varying populations, but still the reefs of Thailand – which total just about 2% of the world’s total reef area - are not dissimilar to those of all Indo-Pacific countries. By far the greatest influence on all tropical coral reefs today is human exploitation, and this is particularly true in Thailand.
Of the two oceans that wash Thailand’s shores, the South China Sea on the east and the Andaman Sea on the west, it is the latter that has the best coral reefs. Most of the east coast is enclosed by the Gulf of Siam, a relatively shallow body of water into which several rivers and their refuse flow. Underwater visibility is never great on this side of the country. On the other hand the Andaman coast is washed by deep, clear waters ideal for the growth of coral reefs, and for divers eager to view them.
Human pressure on the reefs is enormous, and some estimates suggest that more than half of Thailand’s original corals are already dead. Changes in the coastline and run-off from the land are major killers of reefs. Over-fishing is prevalent throughout the country, as are destructive methods of fishing such as bombing reefs with dynamite, the use of destructive push nets that scrape the bottom and trawlers dragging nets right over coral.
There are no major coral reefs fringing Phuket Island of note, though some small, local ones off headlands are OK for snorkelling. Some have already been destroyed completely. Divers invariably head out to the islands and rocky pinnacles where the coral – both hard and soft – is colourful and in good condition.
Without doubt the best reefs in Thailand are those surrounding the Similan and Surin Islands, now a world-famous dive destination. Here the variety of hard corals is especially good, and amongst them is an amazing variety of fish life – small, colourful fish that arise from the coral in brilliant swarms. Most of the larger, edible ones have been shipped off to market long ago.
Tourism in the Andaman Sea has had one good effect on the reefs, despite that a certain amount of coral gets broken each year by anchors and careless divers and snorkellers. Before dive boats moved into the Similans dynamite fishing was prevalent.