The Phuket and Similan Islands Trip (Thailand)
The alarming condition of the coral reefs around Phuket and throughout the areas visited on our trip was already noted by Suraswadi (2012). In the same year, Samsamak reported: "More than a third of all coral reefs near coastal areas around the country have been destroyed by sediment from land developments to build hotels, resorts, and private homes. The area of destroyed reef totals more than 14,200 acres along coastal areas, according to the 2009 national strategic/action plan to protect coastal reefs. On the Andaman coast, about half (50 per cent) of the coral reefs covering 29,300 acres were degraded, while about a quarter (24 per cent) of 19,000 acres of reefs in the Gulf of Thailand were destroyed. Land projects on coastal areas were the main destroyer of coral reefs (...). The removal of land surfaces in coastal areas has sped up the amount of sediment flowing into the sea, affecting reefs, and aquatic animals and plants." A similar scenario was reported and documented by Kahlbrock et al. in the south of Sri Lanka (personal communication 2012, see above). Until now, the coral reefs and Gastropod communities of the entire northern Indian Ocean could not recover from the damages caused by the el Niño of 1999, the tsunami of 2004, and the subsequent rebuilding of the coastal settlements.
The only cowry species still thriving around Phuket are associated with muddy sand (Naria lamarckii redimita, N. gangranosa), or large granite rocks in turbid intertidal waters (Mauritia asiatica, M. mauritiana, Monetaria caputserpentis), whereas, those species living in association with sponges, in vital reefs and loose coral rubble are on the decline or extinct in most areas. From the observations made, it is obvious that the diversity of cowries enountered in an area can be directly related to the condition of the habitats the respective species favor. Declines in species-diversity are an indication of changes in the habitat. Cowry collections with reliable data may serve as a reference when no other observations on the condition of an area from earlier decades is available.
On our visit, we were also able to arrange a partnership with Mr. Thomas Rice. He is well known in the malacological community, as former editor of the "Of Sea and Shore" magazine and author of "Rice’s Prices" (a guide to dealer's prices of seashells). He has agreed to assist the Foundation in doing appraisals for collections.
Along the shores of the beaches of Rawai, Kata, and Nai Harn, living stone corals were virtually absent, but replaced by a compacted, cemented conglomerate of dead coral, covered by a solid brown layer of muddy sediment and algae (See inset photo). Hardly any living gastropods could be found, except an occasional Mauritia asiatica.