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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thailand closes off two more islands to tourists to protect coral reefs

Less than 2 weeks ago, the Thai government closed Koh Tachai island indefinitely. On Wednesday, the government chose to ban all tourist activities at three more islands: Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui, and Koh Khai Nai.

All three of the islands are just off the coast of the popular tourist destination Phuket. The Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DCMR) claims that natural resources around the islands are fast being depleted as tourism has increased. Regional chief of the DCMR, Watcharin Na Thalang, at a meeting with tour operators and guides on Tuesday, said that coral damage is being caused by the coral bleaching process. He said that although the process occurs naturally, human activity accelerates it. At present, up to 60 speedboats visit the three islands each day with tourists staying up to 3 hours snorkelling and engaging in other activities in the water. Already, tourist facilities are being removed from the islands and shortly shops and restaurants will be vacated.
When Koh Tachai was closed, it was announced it was due to excessive tourism. The shoreline, beaches, and coral reef, will be off-limits to all visitors beginning next October 15. However, all Thai marine national parks are already closed during the monsoon season until October 15, so in effect the island is closed now. Koh Tachai is part of Similan National Park. The closure is part of a resource management plan throughout the Andaman Sea.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy dean of the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University told a Thai newspaper:
"A beach on the island can hold up to 70 people. But sometimes the number of tourists was well over 1,000 on the beach. If it's not closed now, we'll lose Koh Tachai permanently."
Phuket is a southern province in Thailand. The province consists of the main island of Phuket, and 32 smaller islands. The province is off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Phuket island is the largest in Thailand. There is a bridge from the island to the mainland. On Boxing Day of December 2004, a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean killed up to 250 people in Phuket but that does not include almost 1,000 illegal Burmese workers who were building new beach resorts. By February 2005 many damaged businesses were up and running again. Now almost no tsunami damage is visible except on remote beaches. It is not clear yet how much damage banning tourists from several of the smaller islands will cause to the local tourist industry.


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