Koh Kong’s Reefs Eyed for Ecotourism Park

After years of watching tourists go next door to Thailand to tour islands and scuba dive, Koh Kong officials say it’s time they started utilizing their pristine beaches, azure waters and picturesque islands.

With the help of a Singapore-based nonprofit group, provincial officials want to create a marine park to promote ecotourism.

Koh Kong’s coast is carpeted with thick forests and mangroves, and its corral reefs are vibrant and healthy.

In short, it is everything an ecotourist would want, said Touch Seang Tana, a fisheries specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture.

Seeing the potential for greater tourism revenues, provincial officials met with the Singapore International Foundation recently to discuss a pilot project to study the reefs, groves and forests, and to train tour guides, Touch Seang Tana said.

The proposed area encompass about 17 islands spread across more than 20 square km, he said. “The marine areas in Koh Kong province have a high potential for ecotourism because of its coral, evergreen forests, beaches and waterfalls.”

Scuba diving and island tours would be the top attractions, he said.

Such a park would be the first of its kind.

“There is no precedent for a marine park in the country at this time,” said Jack Hurd, of the World Wide Fund for Nature. Some park systems, like Riem National Park south of Koh Kong, have islands included on some maps, he said.

Koh Kong’s third deputy governor, Pich Han, said that so far the province has gotten its feet wet by building two tour boats capable of carrying 40 tourists to sight-see among the small islands, mangroves and reef areas, where they can take pictures and scuba dive. Pich Han said the marine areas would quickly attract more tour­ists.

After making a plan for the park, authorities will submit it for approval to the Interior Ministry, Touch Seang Tana said.

If the Ministry of Interior agrees with the plan, provincial officials will sign a memorandum of understanding with the Singa­pore International Foundation, and a study of the parks re­sources would begin. The sign­ing is expected “soon,” Touch Seang Tana said.

The Singapore International Foundation sent a team to the western province two months ago. They studied the coast, islands and reefs, sizing up the potential for ecotourism, Touch Seang Tana said.

They liked what they saw, Touch Seang Tana said. He said they would even like to produce an underwater documentary on the reefs, to be shown as a promotional video to prospective ecotourists.

No scientific studies have been conducted on the reefs or sea bottom in Koh Kong, Pich Han said, but in March scientists from the foundation will come to study them.

In June, staff from the foundation will come to Koh Kong to train tourism officials, Pich Han said.



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