The world-famous bay was closed to all visitors from June 1 to allow coral reefs and the local marine ecoystem to recover after years of heavy ‘overtourtism’, which saw thousands of tourists visiting the bay each day during the tourism high season.
Further on May 11 this year it was announced that boats taking tourists to visit Phi Phi Island’s renowned Maya Bay would no longer even be able to land or drop anchor at Loh Samah Bay, on the far side of the island, in the latest move to protect the island from environmental damage brought on by overtourism.
Instead, a floating pier would be installed so that tourists can disembark tour boats and arrive on the island without causing further harm to the popular island, announced Thanya Nethithammakul, chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
“I just finished meeting with the Protected Area Committee (PAC) yesterday (Sept 4),” Chief Worapoj told The Phuket News on Wednesday (Sept 5).
“We are considering asking to defer the re-opening of Maya Bay to visitors for another month,” Chief Worapoj said, meaning that, if approved, the bay will re-open to visitors at the earliest on Nov 1.
However, Chief Worapjoj declined to comment by marine biologist Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, who earlier this week said that the bay will remain closed until the corals recover.
Chief Worapoj did reconfirm that – if and when the bay reopens – the number of visitors allowed will be limited.
“I can’t confirm how many people will be allowed to enter the bay. At the meeting yesterday (on Tuesday), only 300 to 700 visitors a day were proposed in light of research conducted. Regardless, the final decision rests with the Department of National Parks in Bangkok,” Mr Worapoj said.
Mr Worapoj’s superiors in Bangkok, however, are not shy in announcing details to the press while leaving Mr Worapoj in the dark.
Songtham Suksawang, Director of the DNP's National Park Office, last Wednesday (Aug 29) announced that progress was being made on rolling out the e-ticketing system to be used to issue tickets for visitors to enter the country’s marine parks, including Hat Nopparat – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park and its Maya Bay.
“There will no longer be walk-in tourists at top marine park destinations soon. The e-tickets will serve as a department tool to control and limit the number of tourists,” Mr Songtham told the Bangkok Post. (See story here.)
Mr Songtham explained that three potential vendors for the e-tickets were being considered: 1) 7-Eleven stores, 2) Krungthai Bank, and 3) Siam Commercial Bank.
The best Park Chief Worapoj could contribute on the issue on Wednesday was, “We don’t have conclusion about it yet. Committee members are thinking about it. It needs time to plan it.”
“We have not set the ticket prices or any requirements yet,” he added.
Asked if there would be any limits on the number of tickets bought by one person, or one company, Mr Worapoj said, “We have not made a decision about it yet.”
Meanwhile, Loh Samah Bay on the far side of the island from which cisitors can walk to Maya Bay remains closed, as boat cannot make landfall or drop anchor in the bay, and the floating pier to be built remains in the planning stage, Mr Worapoj confirmed on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, coral reefs at Maya Bay are already coming back to life since closing the area to tourists on June 1, says Dr Thon, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University.
“I am really impressed with the revival of the coral reefs in Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Koh Phi Phi Marine National Park in Krabi province. I have even saw baby shark around this area looking for food. However, the coral reefs still need some time to revive at Maya Bay,” Dr Thon told The Phuket News last Thursday (Aug 30). (See story here.)
“Everything we have done for the coral today is like an ‘apology’ for being late in protecting them. Also, we were too scared and negative to have thought of saving them,” Dr Thon said.
“We gave our promise that we won’t go back again. There will be no boats at Maya Bay again. All coral will be able to grow up in clear water. Then we will have paradise back.
“Then it will show that Phi Phi Island is in the top five beautiful islands in the world. This is our promise,” Dr Thon concluded.