New protected areas to be set for humpback dolphins


Nakhon Si Thammarat _ Thong Nien, Khanom and Sadej bays will be designated an environmental protection zone to safeguard the habitat of humpback dolphins, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Kasem Snidvongs said.

Illegal fishing and the construction of a deep-sea port in the area have taken the dolphins a step closer to extinction.

''We are going to study in detail how the protection zone should be set up,'' the minister said.

''Any construction or fishing activity seen harmful to their habitat will be banned in the area. We hope that the measures to be introduced are good enough to stop the dolphin population from dwindling further.''

He was speaking during a visit to Khanom district, where he received complaints from local villagers about the dangers facing the protected humpback dolphins.

Thanks to the lush sea grass that still covers about 45 rai, Khanom district is home to various species of dolphins including the humpback, which now number only about 30 in the area.

They are regularly spotted in Thong Nien, Khanom and Sadej bays.

Wichok Sookso, the Laem Pratad village head in tambon Thong Nien, said his village was the most convenient spot for observing the humpbacks.

He said concern was growing over the invasion by fishing vessels in the three bays and urged the state to take immediate action to right the wrongs before it is too late.

Local people could not afford to let the creatures die because they attracted tourists and brought in a year-round income.

''We will fully cooperate with the state to protect them. But fishermen from outside the area don't care about saving the creatures. They use various kinds of illegal fishing equipment to maximise their catch,'' said the village headman.

The designation environment protection zone means the area will be governed under specific environmental laws and regulations. Similar zones have been declared in Phuket, Pattaya, Chon Buri, Phangnga and Trang provinces.

Anuwat Nateewathana, acting director of the Office of Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation, voiced his concern over the construction of a deep-sea port in Sadej bay, saying it would have a bad impact on the marine ecology of the area.

''Although local authorities have ordered a halt to the construction of the deep-sea port, we have found that it is still going on.

''The minister is taking the issue seriously. He will demand an explanation from the agencies which were told to make sure the project was brought to a halt,'' said Mr Anuwat.

A private firm is also dredging the area to pave the way for visits by large cruise liners. If the activity is allowed to continue at this rate, it will eventually destroy all the sea grass in the dolphin habitat, say local residents and environmentalists.

Humpback dolphins are a protected species under Thai law.

Bangkok Post