Visitors damage coral reefs on Cocks Comb

Ninety percent of the coral reefs on a famous island, Cocks Comb have been damaged by the uncontrolled influx of visitors during the past two years, U Phyo Wai Yarzar, advisor of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Association told The Myanmar Times on Wednesday.

adCocks Comb Island is just off the coast of Kawthaung and part of the Myeik archipelago in the Andaman Sea. It is a limestone atoll without a beach, but with a stunning lagoon shaped like a heart.

“Almost 90pc of the coral reefs on the island are dead due to over 700 tourists visiting the place every day,” he said. “Chinese and Thai tourists comprise the most visitors to the island.

U Phyo Wai Yarzar urged authorities to act on limiting the number of people allowed to visit the island every day or the coral reefs might be permanently destroyed.

“The environment will be destroyed when people use it beyond its capacity. That is why the authorities should limit the number of travellers to the island,” he said.

Regulators should make sure that they control it in such a way that it balances the impact on the tourism industry and the impact on the environment.

“We cannot do anything once the coral reefs die because if will take many years for coral to flourish again. So we have to wait for a long time before the island becomes attractive again, thus there must be proper management of the island,” he said.

The number of foreign visitors that came to Kawthaung increased by 12,000 in March compared to the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, and one of their favourite destinations is Cocks Comb Island.

These numbers are those entering with visas, not including day-return visitors through border crossings, the ministry added.

Cocks Comb Island is easily accessible by day trip from Ranong province in Thailand, which is just a 90-minute ride, making it very easy for Thai tourists to jump across the border.

Since last year, the international cruise liner, Star Cruise Libra carrying over 700 passengers has being visiting Myeik archipelago. Many other foreign yacht and cruise ship tours have a stopover in the archipelago.

U Phyo Wai Yarzar said cruise ships should avoid landing in shallow water and must stay far away from the islands to prevent destruction of coral reefs.

“Marine tourism in our country is just beginning compared with other countries. So we could say the beginning is not good, but luckily only one island has severe damage to coral reefs,” he said.

“We have to study and learn our lesson on this one so we can prevent destruction of coral reefs on other islands,” he added.

According to the ministry, it collects a US$100 (K134,400) entrance fee from each tourist for four nights and five days stay if they come on international cruise ships.

The Myanmar Investment Commission only permits tourism on 12 of the over 800 islands in Myeik archipelago in Tanintharyi Region.

Out of the 12 islands, one island already got the license for hotel operation and the government is studying proposals to allow construction of hotels on six more islands, U Nyo Aye director of the Hotels and Tourism Department of Tanintharyi Region said.

“This can’t be managed by only one local department. We need the participation of other departments to prevent the destruction of coral reefs.

The Tanintharyi government has released a directive that will take action against people who trade or destroy coral on the islands,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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