20 years late, Pattaya finally drafts final rules to govern ‘sea-walking’

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Pattaya City officials met with National Department of Marine and Coastal Resources officials to define the final criteria, methods, and conditions for sea-walking, or the use of surface-supplied air helmets to allow tourists to walk on the ocean bottom off Pattaya’s islands.

More than a year after promising to restrict “sea-walkers” to areas where tourists can’t damage delicate coral, Pattaya officials put the finishing touches on the long-overdue regulations.

Deputy Mayor Manote Nongyai on Aug. 24 chaired the fourth and final meeting with National Department of Marine and Coastal Resources officials to define the final criteria, methods, and conditions for sea-walking, or the use of surface-supplied air helmets to allow tourists to walk on the ocean bottom off Pattaya’s Near Islands.



Rulemaking began in June last year – with a promised quick resolution – after photos of tourist sea-walkers moving delicate coral in the sea off Koh Larn went viral, prompting the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to order snap inspections and a crackdown on the firms offering sea walking.

Local, regional and national officials have been aware of the risks posed by unregulated sea-walking businesses since 2002, when the Science and Technology Institute and Tourism Authority of Thailand met in Pattaya to say that sea-walker companies could operate, but must coordinate with the standards set by the authorities.



Fast-forward 20 years and sea-walker firms and divers are just as unregulated and reckless as they were at the turn of the century. Crackdowns, licenses and regulation have been promised countless times but, even after an Indian tourist died sea-walking seven years ago, nothing has changed.

For 20 years authorities have threatened to increase scrutiny and regulatory reform against sea-walking tours operating in Pattaya without rules or licenses. Not much, if anything, has changed or been enforced since.

The final criteria set out Aug. 23 allows for three sea-walking zones:
Koh Larn’s Thonglang Beach to Ta Yai Beach – 19 spots
Koh Larn’s “Shooting Field” – 10 spots
Koh Sak – nine spots.

If the regulations discussed Monday finally take effect, it would mark the first time it was codified underwater zones where divers could walk. The rules, as explained by Ukrit Sataphumin, director of the Marine Resources Conservation Office, also would – if followed and enforced – remove all the attraction of actually walking on the sea bottom.



The draft rules state that sea-walking zones should be devoid of all coral, if possible. If not, divers could not approach within five meters of a reef. The zones also should not be home to any sea animals nor an area in which the MRCO currently is or planning to rehabilitate. A final rule states that sea-walkers should not kick up sediment while walking, which is basically impossible.

That leaves sea-walkers nothing to do but look at fish that might swim by.