Undersea " Forest " Face Destruction, Too
By Burmese Writer
Under the crystal green water sit some creatures that seem to squat
like aliens on the sea floor. They are what scientists call "the rain
forests of the sea": coral reefs.
But these images are not real. It
is just a slide show being presented by Sombat Poovachiranon of the Phuket
Marine Biological Center.
Sombat, a specialist in marine ecology,
says that at least 250 species of coral have been identified in the
Andaman Sea. But most of the coral found along the 740 kilometers of
Thailandís Andaman coastline running from Ranong to Satun is now dead, he
Both human activities and natural disturbances are rapidly
destroying coral reefs, which provide food and shelter for numerous marine
species, and serve as a barrier for coastal areas.
Coral is a marine
animal with a rock-like skeleton. It grows in colonies and collectively
builds up its limestone skeleton in various shapes resembling, for
instance, antlers or flowers, according to Sombat.
crucial for coastal areas because they protect shorelines from being hit
by big waves. And the coral also absorbs carbon dioxide, a major
greenhouse gas, from seawater.
Sombat explained that coral gets most of
its nutrients from algae which live within coral tissue in a symbiotic
relationship. But the algae need clear water, constant salinity and a good
environment to carry out photosynthesis, a process used by various plants,
animals and microbes of converting light into food.
Pisit Chansanoh, president of Yadfon Association, a Trang-based
non-governmental organization, the discharge of waste water from
communities and industrial plants has caused severe damage to coral
Mass tourism development also contributes to the
destruction. "Coral are damaged by tourists such as scuba divers who step
on them. Many tourist boats also drop their anchors on the coral and break
the reefs," says Sombat.
He points to Phuket as an obvious example
of a place where tourism development has led to the demise of reefs.
Tourist numbers there have jumped from 20,000 in 1976 to 2.4 million last
Deforestation and near-shore construction may have the greatest
impact among human activities, according to Sombat. Development causes
sediment to run off into the sea and it gets stirred up during the rainy
season, clouding the waters and preventing the coral receiving enough
light. Without light, there will be no photosynthesis and soon the coral
"The reef flats, the areas nearest to the shore, are very
seriously damaged by people walking on the coral," says Sombat. "For the
reef edges next to the reef flats, generally fifty percent is in good
condition. The most secure area are the reef slopes which are located in
deeper areas. There, around 70 percent of the coral is still
Another obvious culprit, he says, is climate change Ė
including global warming and El Nino. Global warming leads to more
disturbances in the weather, such as early rains and unusual storms, which
can do great damage to coral reefs, especially if severe storms hit at low
Also, most types of coral are very sensitive to even a 1-or
2-degree Celsius increase in temperature, which can turn the coral white.
This phenomenon, know as "coral bleaching", will kill the coral after two
or three months. Experts believe some areas can recover within three
months, if the phenomenon does not last.
"If we want to protect our
coral reefs, we should follow these four rules: donít stand on the coral,
donít break them, donít drop anchors on them and donít litter on them,"
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that El Nino will
follow such rules.