Thailand: Maya Bay tourist ban proposed to save marine life

Phuket Gazette 16 May 16;

PHUKET: Maya Bay could be closed next month to help save marine life.

The closure of the popular tourist spot in Phi Phi National Park was proposed by marine experts as a preventative measure to help restore bleached coral and other marine life.

“Currently, sea temperature is very high, and it’s expected to continue increasing from about 30.5 to about 33 Celsius,” said marine expert Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat. “The coral bleaching has started to attack many spots, both in the Andaman and the Gulf of Thailand.”

Coral bleaching occurs when the symbiotic algae that lives in coral leaves, making the coral more susceptible to dying.

“This is the first time we’ve been proactive to coral bleaching,” Dr Thon said. “We’re closing the island before it’s too late, not like in 2010, when we closed the island after everything was already gone.”

Dr Thon said the closures have already begun on Koh Yoong. Other islands may also be closed.

“We expect to close those spots by next month, depending on the sea temperature,” he said. “We’ll see what happens next week.”

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Surasak Karnjanarat said he agreed with restorative closure of the islands.

“If we close the island, people can’t come in and disturb the marine life, and we’ll have more time to get that restoration work done,” Gen Surasak said. “It’s not a question of money. Everything needs to be within a sustainable balance.”

Gen Surasak said he was also concerned over the wastewater management on Koh Phi Phi Leh, and that closing Maya Bay would not be enough if waste is allowed to continue discharging into the sea.

In March, Deputy Prime Minister Adm Narong Pipatanasai also visited the island to review a multi-million baht budget that would plug the free flow of untreated wastewater into the marine park. However, that budget has not been approved or rejected yet (story here).

“The government needs to reconsider the proposal and approve the budget for the wastewater treatment in Phi Phi, otherwise closing the island will not help,” Gen Surasak said.

Dr Thon also said that the government needs to crack down on illegal fishing and damage to marine life caused by tourists.

“I have requested that the ministry reconsider the fine be raised for catching or damaging marine life,” he said. “A fine of 500 baht won’t scare the tourists away, or affect the operators.”

“National parks officers cannot do it alone,” Dr Thon said. “We have to train members of the Ao Nang Tambon Administration Organization (OrBorTor) and their officers and operators on how to protect our marine life.”

Dr Thon said he has submitted a proposal to the ministry and is waiting for it to be approved.

“We need to help each other take care of our sea. Coral bleaching is natural phenomena, but restoring them is our job.”

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