BANGKOK, 18 May 2018: Phi Phi Island’s Maya bay will be off-limits to tourists from 1 June to 30 September according Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
Closing the bay to tourists will give coral reefs a chance to recover after years of damage inflicted mainly by tourist boats.
The bay is part of the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park.
The campaign to close the bay to allow it to rejuvenate was led by Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, who serves as the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Fishery at Kasetsart University in Bangkok and is an official advisor to the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).
His study of the bay’s coral reefs and beds identified 200 different types of boats that had inflicted damage on sensitive coral, mainly when they anchored in the bay.
The park will be cordoned off with buoys and ropes to prevent boats entering. Tourists who are staying at resorts overnight on the island will be able to visit other beaches, but Maya Bay will be closed.
Thon welcomed the move saying on his Facebook page it was a win-win for coral resources and also for the image of tourism.
Linked to the closure of Maya bay, Thon confirmed that visits to Phi Phi’s Maya Bay would be substantially limited even after it reopened to tourists.
“We will reduce the number of visitors to Maya Bay from this year’s daily average of 3,800 people to 2,000 a day,” he said. “Then it will be adjusted to suit the condition of the area and recovery of the coral and sand.
The marine resources expert says the department should quickly identify how it will limit entrance. He suggests there are several ways to limit footfall one of them an advance e-ticketing system.
He has called for an extensive study on practical ways to control footfall through entrance tickets and other economic measures that raise revenue that can be used for conservation projects.
Now the challenge is to regrow coral at Phi Phi’s bays and ensure that damaged coral can rejuvenate. There is a long-term project on Phi Phi that has successfully regrown coral and is ready for planting in Maya Bay.
Maya Bay located in Had Nopparat Tara- Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, was made famous following the 2000 Hollywood film “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
But over the years it has suffered and been degraded at the hands of tourism.
Thon says there are another 26 Thai marine parks that also face the same threat and only appropriate destination management could prevent a disaster.
Thailand relies heavily on tourism with tourist arrivals possibly reaching 38 million this year and 40 million by 2020.
Thon who is also a member of the national strategy committee on sustainable growth warned that 70% of tourists to Thailand visit beach resorts and marine parks. The carrying capacity at popular marine parks has been “extensively compromised.”
But he said the Maya Bay project could be a turning point for reform in marine resources management.
“It’s sort of you telling the world that you are going to do something and the message is loud and clear this time.”