For the last several years the Koh Tao island community has been working towards the creation of a Master Plan for Marine Resource Zoning and Regulations. The work has been going on amongst many separate groups, and on July 11th there was a meeting held to gather all the work into one plan, and vote on the proposals and recommendations.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the local government (Ob-Bor-Tol), The Officer of the Koh Pangnan District, the Marine Fisheries Department, The Prince of Songkla University, Save Koh Tao, The Koh Tao Rescue Team, Lomprayah, and owners of local businesses (dive schools, resorts, tour boats, etc).
At the beginning of the meeting, representatives of the dive community presented a list of signatures and letters supporting the recommendations drafted by the group. The list included letters from PADI & Project AWARE, SSI, 24 Dive School Managers/Owners, and more than 80 long term island dive instructors (those here more than 1 year already).
Dr. Sakanan of the Prince of Songkla University presented the background information for the plan, how zoning plans are developed, what the goals of the plan should be, as well as the work already completed over the last 3 years. He then showed a slide show of pictures taken by dive leaders from the island of problems witnessed that need to be addressed. After the problems had been clearly laid out, he next presented the list of recommendations given by the dive community one by one so that those at the meeting could comment and vote on each.
With many new rules and regulations being put into debate amongst individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests, one might expect arguments and tense dialogue. But, in fact, the opposite was true. The atmosphere of the room was upbeat and constructive, that of people whom have left their differences behind to focus on something larger, which they all can be proud of.
The vote on the recommendations was entirely positive, not only did the group agree with almost all the points, but actually decided to make some of them stronger. Some of the major success points from today include:
- Ban on fishing within in 3km perimeter of the island (except by locals using lines or nets by hand)
- Ban on all fishing and marine animals collection in a 5 sq. km. zone in the front of the island, and 300 meters from Sharks Island.
- Regulations and protection for all dive sites (including Chuphon Pinnacles and Southe West Pinnacles)
- Complete ban on spearfishing, trawling, etc
- Requiring all tour and fishing boats to be registered and display flag indicating they are a local boat
- And much more.
After agreeing to the recommendations today, the next step is to identify which government group will be in charge of each regulation, and getting those rules added to their books. There is also the problem of enforcement, which is always the most difficult part of any zoning program. It is not yet known who will be responsible for the enforcement of each rule (Marine Fisheries, Local Police, Local community, etc), but this will be decided over the next few months.
It was proposed and voted unanimously that Chalok Ban Kao be designated as the pilot for the new regulations. As such, the NHRCP will be handling most of the ground work. So the new rules will first be implemented and enforced there, and any issues or conflicts can be identified and solved before the rules are enforced around the rest of the island. If successful, this program will serve as a model for other island communities around the region.
Nobody involved is blind to the difficulty of enforcing these new rules; today is not the end of the journey. But, it is a major step towards the protection of the local marine environment and resources that many of us have been calling for over the past several years. The action taken today is the culmination of years of work by many different researchers and groups, all towards a common goal. With these regulations in place, the foundation has been laid for enforcement and real action to protect our island.
Another great outcome for today was that Dr. Sakanan has made the Koh Tao EMP Program the official monitoring program for our island, which will be used for future assessments and tracking of our marine resources. In addition to promoting this program (which is also certified by SSI and PADI), he will pay to have the program manual translated into Thai and published.
This has surely been a historic day for our island, both in terms of marine resources protection and the sustainability of our local economy and culture. Thank you very much to all of those involved, keep up the good work!