Thailand names two island Ramsar Sites

The government of Thailand has designated two new Wetlands of International Importance for the Ramsar List, two small archipelago systems with coral reefs lying offshore of opposite sides of the country. Their new status will take effect as of 12 August. As Ramsar’s Ms Nessrine Alzahlawi describes them, based on Thailand’s Ramsar Information Sheets, Ko Kra Archipelago (374 hectares) consists of three remote and relatively undisturbed small rocky islets in the southern area of the Gulf of Thailand, about 53 km east of the mainland. About 66 hectares around the archipelago are covered by an extensive coral reef, with a total of 67 species of hard coral, the highest coral diversity recorded in the Gulf of Thailand. The main island, Kra Yai (34 ha), is an important nesting ground for the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata and the endangered Green turtle Chelonia mydas. The critically endangered Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi is also found at the site.

The lagoons and sheltered bays of the islands have long provided storm shelter for fishing boats during the monsoon season. The reefs attract divers and snorkellers from around the world and help sustain commercial fisheries that mainly target Yellow queenfish (Scomberoides commersonianus), Red snapper (Lutjanus fulviframma), and Cobia (Rachycentron canadum). The site is monitored by the Royal Thai Navy and a national fisheries law prohibits fishing within 3 km of the islands, but illegal turtle egg harvesting and fishing, including dynamite fishing and poisoning, threaten the site.

The second new Ramsar Site, Ko Ra-Ko Phra Thong Archipelago (19,648 ha) consists of two islands in the Andaman Sea, 2 km off the west coast of Southern Thailand. About 1,064 people, most of them fishermen; inhabit the area, which features a rare and complex habitat mosaic including grasslands, peat swamp forests, freshwater pools, evergreen forests, mangrove forests, extensive seagrass beds and coral reefs. The site provides nesting and foraging habitat for four threatened turtle species, the Green, Oliver Ridley, Hawksbill, and Leatherback Turtles. Ko Phra Thong Island is the last remaining site in Thailand known to support a significant breeding population of the vulnerable Lesser Adjutant Leptopilos javanicus.

Important mammal species include the endangered Sunda pangolin Manis javanica, the vulnerable Sambar deer Cervus unicolor, and the Dugong. 700 hectares of seagrass beds represent an important nursery ground for 268 species of coastal fishes and numerous other marine species. Collection of Lesser Adjutant nestlings for food, unsustainable tourism development, land reclamation and land encroachment are the main threats within the site, with overfishing and destructive fishing occurring along the coast.

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