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PHUKET: Authorities are looking to ban destructive dive practices that have been developed on Phi Phi Island to cater to mass tourism.

Officials are specifically looking to ban a practice they are calling ‘Try Diving’.

“In this case, ‘Try Diving’ is where people with no dive experience at all are brought to a shallow reef to walk around and see the marine life. There were companies on the island that just give the tourists rubber clogs to walk on the delicate coral reef and allow them to handle the wildlife,” Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of the National Reform Council (NRC) and a professor at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Fisheries, told the Phuket Gazette today.

“The ban wouldn’t be for those seriously wanting to learn about scuba diving and the underwater world. Of course, legitimate operations can still offer Discover Scuba courses and open water courses.”

The ban was tabled by Dr Thon after officials had to chase off five ‘try dive’ boats moored near the protected reef in Ton Sai Bay on Friday. After being ordered off their spots on the reef – where they have been stationed for the past three years – all five moved just 500 meters from the reef. The boats were named Dive Dream, World Dive, Lok Tai Talay, OK Dive and Sea Angel.

The Gazette was unable to reach the other four companies for a comment. However, the manager of Sea Angel explained that his company was more than willing to comply with the enforcement of the rules.

“We have no problems. We have our business and only do what is allowed,” Somporn Aksornsri said. “However, the public should be aware that we do not allow tourists to touch the marine life or walk on the coral reef. We have staff on site with them to prevent them from doing so. Nonetheless, we will remind our staff that such practices have no place in our business.”

The kind of diving being conducted by the companies is really no different from sea-walking, Dr Thon said.

“The only difference is that sea-walking is illegal in national parks. We will see what we can do to ban these sort of destructive practices from all national park waters in Thailand.”

Most of the coral in the area where the boats were moored was completely destroyed, Dr Thon said.

“This is all wrong. In just one day, I have managed to chase these boats off the reef after they have been destroying our national park for years. Let’s see what else I can do,” Dr Thon said. “I’m from Bangkok. I have no vested interest in the tourism here. The sea is mine: it belonged to my great grandparents and will belong to my great grandchildren. Everyone must come together to preserve this incredible natural resource.”

— Chutharat Plerin