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From Clams to Corals: Tourists Caught Breaking Environmental Laws

① A Tourist Charged During Traveling in South Africa

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A Korean tourist traveling in South Africa has been charged with the illegal possession of wildlife. The Korean tourist caught ten wild scorpions last December 26 in Paarl Village. After being caught in a government inspection, he has been detained for over a month in the Paarl Village Allandale Prison while awaiting trial.

The Western Cape Provincial Court in Paarl, South Africa, sentenced the tourist to a fine of approximately $24,000 or two years’ imprisonment. They explained that about $21,000 of the fine would have to be paid even if the tourist served two years in prison.

The Korean tourist is reportedly considering an appeal after consulting with a lawyer. In response to the news, the embassy advised, “Please be especially careful about unauthorized harvesting of wildlife and plants in South Africa.”

Responsible Travel

This is not the first such case. In 2019, a Korean tourist traveling in South Africa was punished for damaging nature. The tourist was arrested after picking flowers on a beach in Cape Province and storing them in his car. He was arrested on charges of violation of the wild animal and plant law, trespassing on private property, and theft, and was able to be released after paying a fine.

South Africa is a country with strict regulations for ecosystem protection. The government designates many wildlife protection areas, and even a single flower blooming on the roadside cannot be picked without permission. In particular, rhinos, elephants, lions, buffalos, and leopards, which represent the wildlife of South Africa, are strictly protected, and hunting them is considered as serious as murder.
Harsh punishments are known to be imposed for such actions.

② Thailand’s Marine Ecosystem Protection Law


A similar incident occurred in Thailand. In 2019, on SBS’s “Law of the Jungle,” actor Lee Yeol Eum harvested three giant clams in a row on Ko Muk Island. The broadcast showed Lee Yeol Eum cooking and eating the harvested giant clams.

These clams, which have an average lifespan of 100 years, are the largest in the world. They are known to be a rare species legally protected due to their risk of extinction. In Thailand, harvesting giant clams can result in a fine of up to $670 and a prison term of up to 5 years.

The scene caused controversy not only in Korea but also in Thailand. The Thai Hat Chao Mai National Park requested the local police to investigate actor Lee Yeol-eum for violating the National Park Law and the Wild Animal Protection Law. SBS held a personnel committee and took disciplinary action against the head of entertainment, the CP, and the producer, issuing warnings, suspensions, and salary cuts.


In July of last year, three Chinese tourists faced criminal charges in Thailand for stepping on coral reefs and touching starfish. They visited the Racha Islands near Phuket Island and enjoyed scuba diving. At the time, they held starfish and stepped on coral reefs. This behavior violates Thailand’s Marine Protection Law and can result in a two-year prison sentence and a fine of about $6,500.

The incident began to cause controversy by a local environmental group in Thailand. Thai locals blamed the local travel agency. The travel agency in question, a new business, explained that they had warned the Chinese tourists beforehand, but they did not listen. The Thai Minister of Environment announced that two of the three Chinese tourists confessed and admitted their crimes. However, the Minister added, “But one person has fled and is currently being pursued.”

In 2021, Thailand banned using sunscreen containing chemicals that destroy coral reefs in major marine tourist destinations. It became the first Asian country to regulate sunscreen to protect marine ecosystems and has been a hot topic. Violators are subject to a fine of approximately $3,000.

③ Fine for Coral Harvesting in the Maldives

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Several areas in the Maldives have been designated as marine protected areas. The Maldives is the place that has the cleanest natural environment on earth. It is famous as a habitat for diverse marine life.
Unauthorized harvesting of protected species such as coral and other marine life is strictly prohibited in the Maldives.

A minimum fine of $500 is imposed for illegally damaging or harvesting coral reefs. Killing endangered turtles or making handicrafts from their shells is also prohibited. Various organizations and resorts in the Maldives are operating sea turtle protection projects.

In the past, a Chinese tourist illegally harvested coral in the Maldives. They tore off coral while scuba diving and returned it to their hotel. They posted a photo of the coral on social media with the caption, “Just pulled this coral out of the water. Isn’t it beautiful?” This caused controversy. At the time, an argument was raised that their harvested coral could be a second-grade endangered species internationally.

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