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WATER WORLD
Thailand closes dive sites over coral bleaching crisis
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) May 26, 2016


Spanish police seize 74 African tusks
Madrid (AFP) May 26, 2016 - Police in Spain have seized 74 African elephant tusks worth 200,000 euros ($223,000) from a man who was allegedly trying to sell them with a fake permit, authorities said Thursday.

The tusks, which weighed 744 kilos (1,640 pounds), were seized in April in Colmenar de Oreja, a town located southwest of Madrid, police said.

The owner of the tusks had tried to use a hunting licence issued in 1970 in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony on the southeast coast of Africa, to try to sell them, police added.

The hunting licence allowed for one elephant to be killed, not 37 as the doctored version of the document claimed.

The man has been charged with falsifying documents, smuggling and endangering wildlife.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned the ivory trade in 1989.

But some countries allow the resale of ivory bought before the ban, and CITES-approved government stockpiles can also be sold with certification.

Africa is home to between 450,000 to 500,000 elephants, but more than 30,000 are killed every year on the continent to satisfy demand for ivory in Asia, where raw tusks sell for around $1,000 (800 euros) a kilo.

Heavily-armed poachers kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks, which are used for ornaments and in some folk medicines.

The African elephant, the world's largest terrestrial mammal, is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" of threatened species.

Thailand has shut down 10 popular diving sites in a bid to slow a coral bleaching crisis, an official said Thursday, in a rare move to shun tourism profits to protect the environment.

The tropical country's southern coastline and string of islands are home to some of the world's most prized white sand beaches and scuba sites, and the booming tourism industry props up Thailand's lagging economy.

But warming waters and ever-growing swarms of visitors have damaged coral reefs and local ecosystems.

The National Parks department has now indefinitely closed at least 10 diving spots after a survey found bleaching on up to 80 percent of some reefs.

"The coral reefs are affected by unaware tourists -- when they go diving they may touch or step on the reef. Closing those spots will help the reefs recover naturally," National Park Officer director Reungsak Theekasuk told AFP.

The diving sites lie off beaches stretching from Rayong province in the east down to Satun in the far south.

Coral bleaching, primarily caused by warming waters, has been wreaking havoc on the region for years.

It occurs when corals come under environmental stress -- such as stronger than normal sunlight and warmer sea temperatures -- and respond by shedding the algae that give them their brilliant colours.

Corals can survive bleaching but they become more vulnerable to further damage while the condition persists.

Reungsak said the closed diving sites will be inspected ahead of peak tourist season, which starts in November.

"Where we see there is still a crisis, we will have to keep the area and reefs preserved," he said.

The parks department also recently ordered the closure of Koh Tachai, a popular island in the Andaman Sea, to let it recover from environmental damage caused by overcrowding.

Thailand's vital tourism industry remains one of the few economic bright spots as the junta-led government struggles to kickstart the kingdom's stumbling economy.

Tourism accounts for around 10 percent of Thailand's economy, and officials have said they hope to attract 32 million visitors in 2016.


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