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Friday, July 20, 2018

Cloud brightening, 'sun shields' to save Barrier Reef

Australia announced plans Friday to explore concepts such as firing salt into clouds and covering swathes of water with a thin layer of film in a bid to save the embattled Great Barrier Reef.

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed reef, about the size of Japan or Italy, is reeling from two straight years of bleaching as sea temperatures rise because of climate change.

Experts have warned that the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) long area could have suffered irreparable damage.

While the government has pledged to tackle climate change -- the greatest threat to the world's largest living structure -- there has also been a push to explore shorter-term measures to buy the reef some time.
 Canberra in January offered Aus$2.0 million (US$1.5 million) to attract innovative ideas to protect the site, which is also under pressure from farming runoff, development and the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish.

Six schemes selected out of a total of 69 submissions will be tested to see if they are feasible.
One selected concept is cloud brightening where salt crystals harvested from seawater are fired into clouds, making them more reflective and therefore deflecting solar rays back into space.

David Mead, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the idea might seem wacky but the proposal has real potential.

"The team have been looking at using a very fine nozzle to pump small droplets of salt water at the rate of several billion per second," he told national broadcaster ABC.

"The water vaporises and you're left with a salt particle which will float around, and if you can introduce those into the system you can increase the amount of sunlight reflected back."

Another idea was a biodegradable "sun shield", where an ultra-thin film containing light-reflecting particles covers some reef waters to protect corals from heat stress.

"The great thing about the film is it is only a molecule thick so you can swim straight through it and it'll just keep self-forming," Andrew Negri from the Australian Institute of Marine Science told the ABC.

Other short-listed projects include mass producing coral larvae with the aid of 3D-printed surfaces to support new growth, and large-scale harvesting and relocation of larvae.

The experimental commissions came as Canberra said Friday it was updating its Aus$2.0 billion "Reef 2050" plan -- first unveiled in 2015 -- to protect the reef, with further measures to improve water quality.

Source - TheNation

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

#Thailand not seen as safe tourist destination until it fixes problems

TOURISM and Sport Minister Weerasak Kowsurat yesterday urged agencies to sort out a series of problems before they can send a convincing message to the world that Thailand is still a safe destination for tourists.

Weerasak was responding to the Phoenix boat accident that killed 47 Chinese tourists earlier this month off the southern resort island of Phuket. 

There are many issues that authorities should review and rectify to help improve tourists’ confidence in Thailand as a safe destination, Weerasak told The Nation in an interview. 

He said authorities should complete the first phase of the process by paying all compensation that is due to the relatives of victims and return them to their country.
Authorities should then try to figure out what happened to the boats by retrieving the wreckage for inspection. Concerned agencies should collect statistics nationwide about boat accidents and study international standards for tour boats that can be compared to Thailand. 

He also urged authorities to explain that the cause of the accident was not related to so-called zero-dollar tours or nominee ownership in tourism. “[People] should not generalise. We should be sympathetic to those who lost their loved ones. Money cannot bring them back,” he said. 

He also urged authorities to speed up the completion of a safety standards manual to improve confidence. 
“If we can manage all the issues we then can send a single, convincing message to the world, the Chinese, and local people and ask them to have confidence in us,” he said. The number of Chinese tourist visitors to Phuket has dropped sharply in the wake of the tragedy. 

Source TheNation 


Monday, July 16, 2018

Phuket hit as Chinese cancel room bookings after boat disaster

Tourism industry seeks tough measures to protect reputation after boat tragedy

THAI TOURISM authorities are worried following the massive cancellations of hotel room bookings by Chinese tourists in the southern island resort of Phuket following the tragic July 5 boat accident.

So far, 7,300 Phuket hotel room bookings for July and August have been cancelled by Chinese tourists. Industry insiders say the numbers are likely to increase as more hotels report their booking status. Chinese account for as many as 3 million tourists in Phuket per year, while on average some 10 million Chinese tourists visit Thailand every year.

Kongsak Kupongsakorn, president of the Southern Hoteliers’ Association, said 19 member hotels had already reported their cancellations while another 160 hotels have yet to file their reports. The negative impacts of the July 5 accident in which nearly 50 were killed are widespread and more serious than previously thought, he said.

Chatchai Tipsunavee, permanent secretary at the Tourism and Sports Ministry, said a massive number of hotel booking cancellations had been reported despite remedial measures taken by the Thai government following the boat accident.
 At this stage, hotel room cancellations are estimated to account for 10-15 per cent of the total business in the world-renowned resort province.

Chiaya Rapuepol, president of the Andaman Sea tourism business association, said the boat accident could cost as much as Bt42 billion in lost tourism and related revenues over the next two months. He called for the government to restore confidence in tourist safety as soon as possible to avoid even greater damage being caused to Phuket’s Bt350-billion-a-year tourism industry. News reports of the two boats capsizing received worldwide media coverage.

Phuket Governor Napat Prodthong wants the government to set up a command centre to regulate all Andaman Sea tourist activities in the nearby Phang Nga province. 

He suggested inspection points for all incoming and outgoing vessels so that authorities could more effectively enforce safety and |related laws on vessel operators, captains, passengers and crew.

The Phang Nga command centre could take responsibility for Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Phang Nga provinces, he said, adding that Phuket itself will have its own vessel command units at Ao Por, Ratchata Harbour and Ao Chalong Harbour, with closed-circuit and surveillance TV systems installed to record all incoming and outgoing tourists.

Overall, the Phang Nga command centre and other facilities would cost Bt500 million to Bt600 million to boost tourist safety in the Andaman Sea, he said.
 Meanwhile, the Phuket governor and other provincial authorities have joined with Vice Admiral Somneuk Prempramoj, commander of the Third-Region Navy responsible for Phuket and other Andaman Sea provinces, to work with harbour operators and other businesses to ensure tourist safety in the wake of the disaster. The government has announced a revamping of safety rules and regulations to prevent future accidents. The large number of vessels, boat services and even harbours in Phuket alone present a challenge for properly regulating the industry.

The Navy has sent its personnel to help provincial authorities restore confidence and to help upgrade the safety system by issuing early warnings on bad weather. Tourism authorities and others must step up preventive safety measures, such as ensuring passengers are taught how to use safety vests.

Somnuek said the Navy would propose that the central government use Article 44 of the charter to empower Phuket authorities to fast-track enforcement of rules and regulations to boost safety.

Meanwhile, Woraluk Reukch-aikan, managing director of TC Blue Dream Co, owner of the ill-fated Pheonix tourist boat, surrendered on Saturday and will appear in court today to seek release on bail. 

Relatives of the 29 victims killed in the accident have been paid more than Bt60 million in combined compensation. Altogether, 46 bodies have been recovered from the sea, while authorities are still attempting to recover another body struck in the boat’s wreckage and another passenger is still missing.

Source - TheNation


Sunday, July 15, 2018

An onslaught of tourists is stressing out Thailand

Back in early June, a small pilot whale gained global attention after it ingested plastic bags and packaging, and then died in southern Thailand. It wasn’t a good look for the nation’s tourism industry.

A month later, Thailand’s Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat holds up a picture frame containing pieces of an instant-noodle packet recovered from the stomach of the whale. For him, it’s emblematic of the environmental and other stresses of a record tourism boom that could see 40 million foreign arrivals -- equivalent to over half the nation’s population -- in 2019.

"Tourism can create, and at the same time, tourism can disrupt," said Weerasak, 52, in an interview in his office in the Thai capital. "Congestion is no good for anyone, including the hosts and the guests."

A surge in Chinese holidaymakers has stoked the growth in the tourism sector, which now accounts for roughly 20 percent of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Managing the inflow is proving challenging, underlined by a tragedy last week that put the spotlight on safety standards after more than 40 Chinese tourists died when a boat sank off the coast of Phuket.
 The disaster hasn’t had a significant impact on Chinese enthusiasm for holidays in Thailand but the government has to be proactive to prevent a wider fallout, said Thongyoo Suphavittayakorn, a spokesperson for the Association of Thai Travel Agents.

Many of the overseas travelers head to Bangkok, beach hot-spots like Phuket or the popular northern city of Chiang Mai, straining local resources.
Asked if Thailand is now coming close to its tourism capacity, Weerasak said: "Oh yeah."

The minister is looking to promote visits to less-traveled spots inside the country to tackle congestion in popular destinations as well as addressing national income disparities. Yet that throws up a new challenge: How to preserve the character of local communities and heritage sites such as the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya that might have to absorb a wave of foreign visitors.

Weerasak said he’s seeking to "encourage domestic and international travelers to be very responsible, not only to the culture but also to the environment."

Consider the case of Maya Bay on Phi Phi Island, which was made famous by the year 2000 movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The bay has been closed down by authorities for four months to give the island time to recover from environmental degradation, such as coral damage from boat anchors and trash on beaches, caused by constant tourist traffic.

"The increased influx of tourism is already having very visible impacts on the Thai seas and coasts," Eike Schoenig, director and chief resident scientist at marine environmentalist group COREsea, said in an email. "Few countries have good track records managing mass tourism."

The Thai tourism minister is planning to install a reservation-only system to control the number of visitors to the bay. Boats will be forced to dock at the back of the bay, so that there will only be a single entry point for tourists.
 Thailand’s military government is also considering imposing a travel insurance system to prevent tourists arriving without any protection and ending up as a burden on the state if they get into trouble, he said.

Despite the difficulties, tourism is going to remain a critical engine for Thailand, where economic growth is accelerating but lags behind some neighboring countries. Government data shows revenue from foreign tourists is projected at well over $60 billion next year, and that spending remains focused mainly on major cities.

The country is pushing ahead with investment to expand airports as passenger traffic climbs. State-run Airports of Thailand plans to pour billions of dollars into boosting capacity in Bangkok as well as the tourist-heavy spots of Phuket and Chiang Mai.

Countries such as France and Italy that get heavy tourist traffic manage to disperse visitors, said Weerasak.

"That is the pattern we want to see," he said. "The numbers keep increasing. It all depends on how you manage them."

Source - TheJakataPost

Thailand - Four cave footballers stateless: official

The chief of Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district has emphasised that Thai citizenship shall be granted based on the law and there will be no exemption even for four of the footballers rescued from the cave.

“I understand that society hopes the rescued boys get citizenship. But we have to comply with the law,” Mae Sai district chief Somsak Khanakham said. 

He spoke after news reports said some of Mu Pa Academy’s members are stateless. 
The team, stranded inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave for more than two weeks, miraculously survived. 
According to Somsak, someone gets Thai citizenship when he or she was born in Thailand or born to Thai parents. 

Somsak said the four of 13 rescued footballers who did not have Thai citizenship were coach Ekkapon Chantawongse, 25, and three footballers Pornchai Khamluang, 16, Mongkol Boonpium, 13, and Adul Sam-on, 14.

According to the Mae Sai district chief, the stateless members called on him for help with citizenship claims about two months ago. He said he has already offered them advice. 

Somsak said he heard Ekkapon already contacted the authorities but had yet to submit all the required documents. 

“For children, their parents must be the one to submit the request for citizenship,” he said. 
Somsak said he expected the footballers to officially seek citizenship after they were discharged from the Chiangrai Prachanakroh Hospital. 

All 13 trapped footballers are now being treated and monitored at the hospital.

Source - TheNation


Friday, July 13, 2018

#Thailand - Citizenship of three young cave survivors shines light on plight of stateless persons

THE lack of Thai citizenship of three youth footballers who were saved from the Tham Luang cave has highlighted the hidden problems of stateless people.

The Interior Ministry and the Children and Youth Department have confirmed that three of the 13 survivors from the Chiang Rai cave are stateless persons. Authorities have promised to provide them legal assistance in the nationality verification process and if there were no complications in their documents all of them will have Thai nationality within six months.

Ekkapol Chantawong, Phonchai Khamluang, and Adul Sam-on, three survivors from the Tham Luang cave, are among 500,000 stateless persons in Thailand who have to endure limitations in many aspects of their life as they are denied some rights and opportunities.

It was also disclosed that many stateless persons have to wait for a decade to get Thai citizenship because of the slow verification process.
 Surapong Kongchantuk, a prominent activist on human rights and nationality issues, said that although the Thai government has provided basic rights to all persons in Thailand, ensuring compulsory education and healthcare, stateless persons still face many complications in their lives.

“Theoretically, all people must be under the care and protection of being a citizen of at least one state, but in reality there are more than 500,000 persons in Thailand who do not have any nationality, even though they are born and raised in Thailand,” Surapong said.

He said the lack of citizenship means that stateless persons are denied access to many fundamental rights such as travelling abroad, getting higher education or employment in some careers, so they do not have many opportunities to improve their lives.

According to Surapong, stateless persons can ask for nationality verification at their local administrative organisation to acquire Thai citizenship. They must provide proof of their birth and lineage and that they were born to a Thai national parent. Ethnic minorities born in Thailand are eligible to get Thai nationality.

Otherwise, they can submit a bachelors degree or diploma or ask for a special grant from the Thai government to get Thai nationality, he said.

Nevertheless, he said the procedure to verify and seek Thai nationality is slow and complicated because local administrative organisations often do not have enough staff to deal with the overwhelming number of requests for nationality verification. Some people have to wait for more than 10 years to get Thai nationality and receive a Thai citizen ID card. Legal Status Network Foundation chairman Santiphong Moonphong also said that due to the complications and the long period of time it takes to get Thai nationality, many youths who do not have citizenship lose opportunities.

Santiphong said he hoped that the nationality status of three survivors from the Tham Luang cave would bring the problems of stateless persons to public attention and get prompt solutions from the government.

Source - TheNation

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thailand cave rescue to be turned into Hollywood movie

The mission to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a Thai cave is to get the Hollywood treatment in a movie announced by faith-based production house Pure Flix.

Managing partner Michael Scott, who lives in Thailand and was at the rescue site in Chiang Rai as the boys were being pulled to safety, made the announcement late Tuesday on Twitter.
"I couldn't be more excited. This story has meant so much to me as I have followed it in Thailand this summer," he said in a video filmed at the scene of the flooded cave in the country's north.

"My wife actually grew up with the Thai Navy SEAL that died in the cave. To see all that heroic bravery in the cave, and to get all the divers out, it's just such a touching event and so personal to me."

Stunning video footage emerged Wednesday of several of the "Wild Boars" team -- aged 11 to 16 -- being freed from the Tham Luang cave on stretchers, ending a successful three-day rescue.
They are in good physical and mental health, say doctors, despite a harrowing 18 days inside the dank, dark cave before a risky rescue operation that was dubbed "Mission: Impossible".

Scott's wife has been involved with planning the funeral for Saman Kunan, the former SEAL that died on July 6 while helping install oxygen tanks in preparation for the extraction.

"We're here really looking at this as a movie that could inspire millions of people across the globe," Scott added.

"And we're here witnessing the events, gathering some contacts and everything, to really tell a story about an international effort, the entire world coming together to save (12) kids trapped in this Thai cave."

Pure Flix co-founder David A.R. White told The Wall Street Journal the company -- which was behind the 2014-18 "God's Not Dead" trilogy -- was talking to actors, writers and potential investors.
"Pure Flix joins the rest of the world in thanking God for answering prayers for the successful rescue of those trapped in the cave in Thailand," the company said in a statement.

Source - TheNation