Before and after images of coral in the Hat Chao Mai National Park. Photo: Prueg Ubonkerd / Facebook
Before and after images of coral in the Hat Chao Mai National Park. Photo: Prueg Ubonkerd / Facebook

TRANG — An influx of tourists over Songkran combined with poor management seriously damaged huge chunks of coral in a protected area of Trang province, officials said Monday.

A top park official and a representative of local tour guides explained today the damage was due to tourist numbers overwhelming their capacity to properly regulate visits during the week-long holiday earlier this month.

According to Somsak Pantumet, president of Trang’s tour guide association, coral off Koh Kradan was most harmed, with more than 500 meters of the reef damaged.

“There were too many boats and tourists coming in, and not enough mooring buoys. Many boats just dropped their anchors onto coral or tied ropes around coral,” he said. “Many also chose to dock very close to or on top of coral just to please their customers … or some stayed too long, until the tide had gone down, which caused boats to collide with coral when trying to leave.”

Their statements came after a Facebook user posted a video last week showing a large field of broken coral allegedly in Hat Chao Mai National Park. The user claimed the damage occurred in the space of Songkran.

Narong Kong-Iad, head of Hat Chao Mai National Park, acknowledged there were not enough staff members to protect the marine park. He promised stricter regulations and more mooring buoys to be set up Thursday, adding that officials have set a meeting with tour operators to educate them about sustainable tourism.

When asked about the necessity of drastic measures such as shutting down tourism completely – as has been implemented in Maya Bay –  Narong replied that he doesn’t think such steps are required. He claimed tourist numbers have already dropped sharply after Songkran.

Official statistics show that Hat Chao Mai National Park received nearly 14,000 tourists from April 12 to April 16, with the peak on April 14 seeing more than 8,000 tourists. The number of visitors this past Sunday was 697. On a typical weekend, visitor numbers range between 300 to 600 per day.