Lonely Planet Writer

Protecting the environment: three more Thai islands closed to save nearby coral reefs

Officials in Thailand have banned tourist activities on three popular islands in order to prevent damage to nearby coral reefs.

Monkey Beach at Phi Phi Don Island, Andaman Sea, Thailand.
Monkey Beach at Phi Phi Don Island, Andaman Sea, Thailand. Image by cat_collector / CC BY 2.0

The announcement came after Thai marine officials had already banned tourists and travellers from the island of Koh Tachai, out of fears that visitors were having a detrimental effect on the island’s local environment.

The islands of Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai have been popular destinations for day trips from neighbouring Phuket. On average 60 speedboats a day were carrying out trips to the island before the ban. The islands’ beachside shops and restaurants have also been shut.

Ko Samui beach, among others, will no longer welcome Thailand's infamous beach parties.
Ko Samui beach, among others, will no longer welcome Thailand’s infamous beach parties. Image by Flightspeed / CC BY 2.0

The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources in Thailand claims that coral reefs in the area of the Phuket islands, which are known for their rich and beautiful colours, have been up to 80% degraded.

Sun setting at Ko Phra Thong beach.
Sun setting at Ko Phra Thong beach. Image by Jonathan Gregson

Corals across the world have suffered the from the phenomenon of coral bleaching. Chief of the DMCR Watcharin Na Thalang said that tourist activity was depleting the ecosystem of its natural resources.

“Coral reefs are crucial to marine ecosystems and our last survey showed the area around Koh Khai Nai has corals covering 120 rai, Koh Khai Nok has 109 rai and Koh Khai Nui 17 rai. Today, a tremendous amount of corals have been damaged and getting them to recover is very difficult,” Mr Watcharin told the Phuket News.

Patong beach, Phuket.
Patong beach, Phuket. Image by Nicolas Lannuzel / CC BY-SA 2.0

“The reasons for coral damage in the Koh Khai area is from the coral-bleaching process, which occurs naturally and from human activity. This includes the increasing number of tourists, boats that anchor on the corals, people walking on corals while playing in the water, feeding marine animals and catching them to take photos of with them.”

The tourist ban will be accompanied by a major clean-up of the beaches and sea around the islands while the ban remains in place for the foreseeable future.

Thailand is expecting around 30 million international visitors this year alone, meaning that it’s important for these slices of paradise to get a rest.