SURAT THANI — Marine officials are hopeful Friday that efforts to reduce plastic use on the tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Koh Tao will be enough to nab a nearby national park a place on an international heritage list.

Mu Koh Ang Thong National Park, a national park comprising 42 islands, is Thailand’s contender for the ASEAN Heritage Site list this year, officials said Friday.

“There is a high possibility that the Mu Koh Ang Thong National Park will become an ASEAN Heritage site this November due to its biodiversity and conservation efforts,” Piya Noonil, park director said Friday. “Our rangers are working hard both on land and by sea.”

Wichai Somroop, director of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources in Surat Thani and Chumphon, told the press that the department has made efforts to get tourists in the park to steer clear of coral reefs.

“We’ve revived the coral reefs so they can support marine life, as well as informed tourists and diving schools not to swim close to them,” Wichai said.

Wichai also claimed his department has asked businesses on the nearby tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Koh Tao to reduce plastic bag use. He said that Pha Ngan is doing the best out of the three and was able to “quit cold turkey.”

In December, his department issued protective laws over the three islands making a wide range of activities illegal, including: dropping anchors from boats operated by tourists, dumping waste water or trash into the sea, feeding fish, fishing, and engaging in “Sea Walking” (walking on the sea floor while breathing in a helmet). Breaking these laws is punishable by a year in jail and a fine of 100,000 baht.

There are currently 44 ASEAN Heritage parks, four of which are in Thailand: Tarutao National Marine Park, Khao Yai National Park, Kaeng Krachan National Park, and three nearby parks which are counted as one entry (Ao Phang-Nga, Mu Ko Surin, and Mu Ko Similan). Five of the 44 sites are also designated as UNESCO Heritage Sites, including Khao Yai National Park.

According to ASEAN’s website, ASEAN Heritage Parks are chosen from member states who “maintain wilderness that have scenic, cultural, educational, research, recreational and tourism values.”

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