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Point of View: Similan Islands: beautiful, but not what they used to be

Jan. 22, 2010

By Laura Remson

This Christmas, I had the privilege of visiting my family in Singapore, where they have lived for the past few months. During that time, we also went to Phuket, Thailand, for a little bit of R & R and one night on a live-a-board SCUBA boat.

The area we visited is called Khao Lak and five years ago, it was devastated by the tsunami that destroyed much of it and surrounding countries.

There is one photo that pops up on the Internet that shows a comparison of the coastline before and after, and the difference is astounding. The area, once tropical jungle green, is now brown. River inlets that were pencil thin had were widened dramatically. When we asked around, a local restaurant employee explained that much of the town, its restaurants, shops and bars, had been wiped out.

I had been to the Similan Islands before, to scuba dive during my sophomore year of high school. That trip was phenomenal. We saw sharks and rays and an incredible array of fish and plant life. More importantly, this trip was about what we didn't see. There were only a few boats scattered across the nine-island chain. The area was one of those "undiscovered" sites that people had heard of but were not visiting just yet.

These islands are known for manta rays and whale sharks. They are painted on the sides of dive shops and dive boats.

People trade stories of this dive or that dive. With this knowledge and high hopes, my family headed out for six dives in two days.

Each dive, I constantly shifted my view from the corals and fish beneath me to the empty blue space just over my shoulder and out to sea. I was told to keep a wary eye on deeper waters because that's where the big stuff was.

The first few dives I saw morays, turtles and lots of great stuff, but I was disappointed without the big guys. I kept imagining the wings of the manta ray, materializing before my eyes. The majestic animals look like they are flying through the water.

By the last dive, I had to admit defeat. This just wasn't the trip and, I supposed, it wasn't meant to be. I couldn't help wondering, was this my fault? Was this the fault of all tourists?

The Similans have changed since I was last there. There were two or three dive boats at each of the sites and in turn we saw other divers on each dive. The number of boats is also having an impact on the corals. They weren't bright and colorful as you would expect and many of them were broken into pieces. Frankly, it looked dead.

There were bottles, cups and plates on the bottom. My personal favorite though, was the pair-of-shorts-floating-around-in-the-bottom-of-the-ocean fish. Really, a stunning, but rarely seen fish.

Tourism rebuilt the town, bringing in people, jobs and revenue. Unfortunately, there's no control over how many people are coming in. I think the solution is to place limits on the number of people visiting the park.

Another solution would be to place stricter controls on the boats entering this area, by maintaining environmental standards.

I sincerely hope this area will be around 10 or 15 years from now. I believe that by implementing these possible solutions my hope can be a reality.

Laura Remson is a Frisco senior majoring in journalism. She is a staff writer for the Lariat.