From: Jutarat Skulpichetrat, Reuters, BANGKOK
Published January 20, 2011 06:48 AM

Thailand closes dive sites to halt damage to reefs

Thailand is closing dozens of dive sites to tourists after unusually warm seas caused severe damage to coral reefs in the Andaman Sea, one of the world's top diving and beach resort regions, authorities said on Thursday.

More than half of southern Thailand's 15,000 hectares of coral reefs are suffering from bleaching, or the shedding of coral colors, a phenomenon caused largely by rising sea temperatures over an extended period, officials said.

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"We will study the cause and effect and find a way to restore them," Sunan Arunnopparat, director of the Department of National Parks, told Reuters, adding that the reefs will be closed across seven national parks.

"This is part of an effort to restore the reefs."

He declined to say how many diving spots would be closed or how extensive the damage was to the reefs. He said diving sites where bleaching had spread to 80 percent of the reefs would be shut for an unspecified period.

The coral bleaching -- whitening due to heat driving out the algae living within the coral tissues -- was first reported in May after a surge in temperatures across the Andaman Sea from the northern tip of Sumatra island to Thailand and Myanmar.

Other parts of Southeast Asia have also suffered. An international team of scientists studying bleaching off Indonesia's Aceh province found that 80 percent of some species have died between May and August.

Photo Credit:  Roger Greenway

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70J1R120110120

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