Thailand is one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, and not just among divers. But that popularity has, in the opinions of many, to some extent compromised the country’s appeal. From large-scale resorts along the Phuket waterfront to bleached and damaged corals underwater, the cumulative effect of millions of tourists every year is visible everywhere.
And now the Thai government has taken extreme measures to prevent the total loss of some of their most popular areas. Koh Tachai is one of nine islands within the Similan Islands National Park, one of the most popular dive destinations in the country, and is known for its natural beauty. But now, the authorities have issued a notice that they are closing Koh Tachai to all tourists indefinitely. The entire national park closes yearly from May 15 to October 15 due to unsafe weather conditions, but Koh Tachai will remain closed beyond that point. As of now, there’s no news about when, or if, Koh Tachai will open to tourists again, although the deep pinnacle at Koh Tachai will remain open to divers.
Koh Tachai Under Threat
In recent years, many visitors to the island have reported that it was in a harrowing state, with overcrowded beaches, bleached or dead corals, and few fish to be seen on the reefs. As a consequence, the authorities have ended all tourist visits in order to let nature recuperate, “before the damage done is irreversible,” said Tunya Netithammakul, head of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation, to the Bangkok Post.
Numerous environmental organizations have attempted to draw the attention of the authorities to the problem, but with millions of dollars in potentially lost tourism income at stake, action has been scarce. And according to some, the problem isn’t limited to Koh Tachai, but is widespread among many of Thailand’s most popular tourism and dive spots.
Professor of marine biology Thon Thamrongnawasawat of Bangkok’s Kasetsart University has long criticized the state of Koh Tachai, pointing to the fact that a number of the beaches on the island can only sustainably host around 70 guests a day, and yet the number is often over 1,000. Restrictions on food carts and other vendors have also been lacking, as have instructions for visitors about how to best help protect the corals and wildlife around the island.
In Koh Tachai, a big problem for the reefs is that divers and snorkelers often lather on a thick layer of sunscreen, but when they jump in the water, that sunscreen washes off and coats the corals in a thin layer that essentially strangles them. (For a selection of coral-safe sunscreens, check here).
Thailand received a whopping 29.8 million tourists last year, and this year is expected to be even busier. Without clear, nationwide policies, however, Thailand’s natural beauty and resources are in danger of being loved to death.