From: Phusadee Arunmas and Woranuj Maneerungsee, Bangkok Post
Published December 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Thai Fishery Industry Fears Tsunami Threat to Coral Reefs, Biodiversity

THAILAND — Damage to coral reefs and changes in sand layers as a result of the tidal waves on Sunday has raised concern about marine biodiversity among local fishermen, as Thai waters might no longer be a rich natural resource for certain species.


According to Songsang Patavanich, the president of the Thai Overseas Fisheries Association, manufacturers and exporters in the fishery industry should take into account possible changes in their supply and readjust their strategies.


"The damage will inevitably decrease nutrients for aquatic animals. Some fish could migrate to other waters or will no longer be seen in the Thai waters," Mr Songsang said, adding that it was too soon to assess all of the damage.


He said the fate of about 400 Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters was still unknown. About 300 Thai boats were also in Burmese waters and others were out of harm's way off Madagascar and Yemen at the time the tidal waves hit the region.


However, the greatest damage could have been felt by local and small fishing boats berthed along the coastline, he said. In Sri Lanka, it was reported that the waves swallowed more than 1,000 local fishing boats.


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Community leaders in the three hardest-hit provinces of Phuket, Krabi and Phangnga said that it would take years to recover from damage on such a scale and restore investors' confidence.


Somchai Tantipecharapron, president of the Phangnga Chamber of Commerce, said several tourism spots in the province were destroyed, notably Takua Thung.


Pamute Achariyachai, president of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, expressed his concern for small merchants who made a living selling food or souvenirs on the beaches. He estimated that half of the hotel businesses in the island had been affected and would need at least three months to renovate.


Saritpong Kiewkong, president of the Krabi Chamber of Commerce, estimated that the damages to the province's tourism industry would amount to billions of baht, including lost business opportunities during the holiday season. Almost all hotel bookings have already been cancelled.


Mr Saritpong, also an operator of three hotels on the Phi Phi islands, said hotel operators had called for the government to help them by asking banks to relax repayment terms.


He also urged the government to rebuild tourists' confidence in Krabi, Phangnga and Phuket, known as the "Pearl of the Andaman", by informing tourists that such a disaster was the exception rather than the rule, as the country was not a risky area for earthquakes and tsunami.


He said that Phi Phi and other islands in Krabi would take at least two years to recover. Next year, the area's tourism industry would generate only half of the 16 billion baht it made this year, he forecast.


He also encouraged authorities to pay attention to marine security. "I have been echoing my concern about marine security for many years but there has been no response from the government. Now it's time to think about it seriously."


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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