Officials have banned holidaymakers from visiting parts of the three popular islands off Phuket’s east coast and some in Andaman Sea as they review the impact tourism is having on the local ecology.
Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation is closing the beaches, the reef and a tourist area on the islands “to solve the environmental and natural resources impact which is caused by tourism,” according to an announcement on the department’s website. The order was issued on May 10.
The waters off Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai are renowned for their colourful coral displays and are popular with day-trippers from nearby Phuket, but the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) claims that up to 80 per cent of reefs there have been degraded and has decided to ban tourists from visiting them. Authorities have also ordered the removal of facilities and structures used for tourist activities from all three islands.
Walking on corals
Corals in the Koh Khai area are both damaged by bleaching and from human activity. This includes the increasing number of tourists, boats that anchor on the corals, people walking on corals while playing in the water, feeding marine animals and catching them to take photos of with them.
“All these activities negatively impact the marine ecosystem and cause a deterioration in natural resources. They must be stopped. We want operators and guides (...) to understand the rules and procedures in conducting a tour to prevent further damages to our marine natural resources and the coastal area. They must practice environmentally friendly tourism," (DMCR) regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang tells the Phuket News.
At least 60 speedboats per day, as well as increasing numbers of restaurants and shops, are diminishing existing natural resources in the coastal areas around the three islands, said a recent report by the Phuket Marine Biology Centre, Mr Watcharin pointed out.
Meanwhile Koh Tachai, in the Similan National Park, about 45 miles off Thailand’s southwest coast, and one of Thailand’s most beautiful island destinations popular with divers and snorkelers, will be closed to tourists indefinitely in an attempt to protect it from irreparable harm, the government has announced. The park is normally closed to tourists from mid-May to mid-October because of safety concerns during the monsoon season, but will not reopen as is customary in October.