PHUKET: Chalong Police are hunting coral poachers who abandoned a long-tail boat containing more than 600 illegally cut pieces of coral that were destined for the black market.

Officers rushed to the scene yesterday morning after being tipped off by locals who had watched the suspects carry the coral ashore. Locals told officers that the suspects were waiting to meet a buyer at Klong Pakbang behind the Rawai Municipality Office.

“We could not find the suspects when we arrived. We believe that they knew we were coming, and fled,” said Maj Chotipong Kessarin of the Chalong Police.

The corals, still alive, were taken to the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) Region 5 Office and will eventually be transplanted back into the sea, said Tanet Munnoy, chief of DMCR Region 5.

“I believe these corals came from somewhere near Racha Noi Island,” said Mr Tanet. “The cost to the environment of such pillaging is too high to calculate.”

Inside the long-tail boat, officers found dive equipment, chisels and an air compressor.

“It appears that the suspects had done this before,” Mr Tanet said.

“Coral can command a high price on the black market, but harvesting it is illegal and harmful to the environment,” he added, warning that anyone found doing so would be prosecuted.

Chalong Police are questioning locals in the area in order to track down the suspects.

This is the second time this week that the DMCR has received a call about corals being removed from the Andaman.

On Monday, a group of recreational divers near Koh Dok Mai mistakenly identified researchers removing coral for a cancer-cure project as poachers and called to report them (story here).

— Kritada Mueanhawong