Sustainable managing of coral reefs and underwater pinnacles for marine tourism in the Gulf of Thailand

Thamasak - Yeemin, Makamas Sutthacheep, Sittiporn Pengsakun, Wanlaya Klinthong and Charernmee Chamchoy, Ramkhamhaeng University, Department of Biology, Bangkok, Thailand
The sustainable use of tropical marine and coastal resources are very important aspects, particularly resilience of coral reefs to climate change and anthropogenic disturbances. Diving tourism provides great benefits to local and national economy as well as supports local employment and livelihoods in tropical countries. The growth of marine tourism, especially diving activities, is an important aspect for the blue economy development. The degradation of coral reefs has been documented, particularly coral bleaching, coastal development and tourism impacts. The mass tourism caused negative impacts and delayed natural recovery process of degraded coral reefs. This study applied a transdisciplinary approach to develop marine ecotourism in Chumphon Province, the Western Gulf of Thailand, to support coral reef conservation. The ecological, socio-economic, and tourism surveys were conducted to gather relevant information i.e. ecological data, socio-economic, and tourism development. The results revealed that some coral reefs and underwater pinnacles in Chumphon Province can be developed and promoted as ecotourism sites to attract tourists from the main dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Since the popularity of marine tourism in Chumphon Province is relatively low, tourism promotion and marketing, as well as tourism infrastructure development, should be heavily emphasized. We also suggest that ecotourism concept with local participation should be applied to ensure the sustainability of ecological integrity and social-economic viability. This study provides integrated baseline information to support sustainable ecotourism management along with coral reef conservation in Thailand which can be applied at other reef sites in other tropical countries.