CHUMPHON — Officials announced plans to establish a task force to protect marine resources Wednesday after an ancient coral specimen was stolen from an island in the Gulf of Thailand.
Environmental Minister Gen. Surasak Kanjanarat said he will establish a Thai Seas Task Force to deal with such thefts as the authorities hunted for suspects in the destruction and theft of the disc coral from a cave on the gulf island of Koh Wiang.
“Some people want marine resources, so they commit the premeditated theft of coral,” Surasak said, adding that a multi-agency task force including government agencies, the coast guard and navy would deploy guards to vulnerable sites.
The Marine and Coastal Resources Department is seeking an arrest warrant for the unknown perpetrators who made off with the five-meter coral Monday morning, while local tour guides were chagrined over its loss.
“I feel so sad that people won’t get to see something so beautiful and old flourishing in its habitat,” said Jiamjit Somsorn, 54, owner of Green Diving Tours.
The stolen disc coral weighed about a metric ton and could have taken over 1,000 years to grow, Jiamjit said.
“Even with constant sunlight, this type of coral can only grow a centimeter per year. This particular coral only got an hour of sunlight a day in its cave, from 2pm to 3 pm, so it’s definitely possible that it’s over 1000 years old.”
Jiamjit said her fishermen tour guides take up to 10 people to the island. On Monday, when a guide arrived with several tourists to see the coral, he discovered it had been “dug out by the roots.”
“The cave opening is very small, smaller than the coral. About a fourth of the coral broke off during their flight. The pieces had been freshly broken off. They were so heavy, it took about four men to carry the pieces. So you can estimate that the entire coral weighed over a ton,” she said.
The other three-fourths of the coral, Jiamjit suspects, were stolen for decorative purposes.
“Only mega-millionaires would want it to decorate their home, not normal people. Sometimes we get strange requests from people asking us if they could take the coral to make bonsai coral decorations,” Jiamjit said. “But we took care that no one would take it from Koh Wiang.”
She said her diving tour company discovered the disc coral on Koh Wiang only a couple of years ago.
“It was a valuable treasure and natural resource that we cared for so well,” she said. “Although there’s other coral on Koh Wiang, this one was the beautiful highlight of the tour.”
A Facebook post by the Department of Marine and Coastal resources summing up the theft and current investigation of the Koh Wiang disc coral.