Local residents rallied to file a petition calling for park areas to be closed off to allow environmental recovery, resulting in Krabi Governor Phinich Boonlert filing that request with DNP Chief Thanya Netithammakun, confirmed Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, adviser to the DNP and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University in Bangkok.
“Consequently, Yoong Island has been closed since May. Maya Bay is next in consideration,” he told The Phuket News this week.
Sarayut Thantian, Chief of the Hat Nopparat Thara - Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park, also confirmed the news this week. “We are thinking about limiting the number of tourists visiting the areas,” he said.
“Right now we are collecting information about the impact on Phi Phi. We don’t have details yet, but we do recognise that some national park areas will have to be closed because of the effect of so many tourists visiting those areas,” Mr Sarayut said.
As a stop-gap measure, while the park surveys are being carried out, officers are installing more buoys at the Phi Phi park sites to reduce the damage done by tour boats and to make sure dive areas are clear of vessels, Mr Sarayut added.
Krabi Marine Chief Boonchaw Tangsiripaisan voiced his support for limiting the number of tourists visiting Phi Phi. “We send reports to the Krabi Governor every month about Phi Phi, and we agree that we must limit the number of boats carrying tourists. A suitable number must be set to preserve the area,” he said.
“This will be the key topic at a meeting to be held soon. Although this is directly the responsibility of Hat Nopparat Thara - Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park, it affects the Marine Office also as it concerns the large volume of marine traffic in the area,” he added.
A working group has already been set up by Krabi Governor Phinich, Chief Boonchaw said. “This is beyond the ability of the Krabi Marine Office. Our working group also now includes Marine Police, National Parks protection officers and Krabi Tourism and Sports officials,” he added.
The number of tourists visiting Phi Phi park areas has exploded over the past year, with entry-fee revenues rocketing from B84,948,280 in 2015 to B456,699,811 already so far this year.
DNP adviser Dr Thon has long lobbied for tourist-exclusion zones to allow heavy traffic areas to environmentally recover.
“The situation has been worrying for years, as anyone can see. Limiting the number of tourists is a good idea, if it can be done,” he told The Phuket News.
“Huge numbers of tourists continue to flood into Phi Phi, namely at 20 coral reef areas in the national park – and this is not likely to abate in the next few years as the number of tourists coming to Thailand continues to rise,” he said.
To Dr Thon, key to alleviating environmental pressure at the popular sites is to regulate the boats entering the popular marine park areas.
“We registered 1,550 boats as they entered the national park in April. Every boat registered is issued a yellow sticker with a number identifying the boat – and nearly all the boats arriving in the park are from Phuket,” he said.
This will be effective in controlling the boats as we will know exactly how many boats are coming into the areas, and when. It will help us to set the number of boats allowed to enter the areas in the future and it will make the collection of fees simpler and clearer to follow,” Dr Thon added.
Meanwhile, park officials are installing 300 buoys to define the boundaries of reef areas where boats may not enter. “This project will be finished by mid-2017,” Dr Thon said.