Thailand is set to close down one of its islands indefinitely. It seems Koh Tachai, off the coast of Phang Nga province, is too beautiful and too popular for its own good, and will now be off-limits to all visitors starting October 15, authorities said on Monday.
Koh Tachai is part of Thailand’s Similan National Park and is widely known for its beautiful shoreline, beaches, and coral reefs. But soon that beauty will be off-limits to tourists. While many of Thailand’s marine national parks close down during the monsoon season, which runs from the middle of May to mid-October, Thai authorities made the decision not to reopen the island in light of the negative environmental impact of Koh Tachai’s heavy tourism.
“Thanks to its beauty, Koh Tachai has become a popular tourist site for both Thai and foreign tourists,” Tunya Netithammakul, director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation, said to the Bangkok Post. “This has resulted in overcrowding and the degradation of natural resources and the environment. We have to close it to allow the rehabilitation of the environment both on the island and in the sea without being disturbed by tourism activities before the damage is beyond repair.”
— Epoch Times (@EpochTimes) May 17, 2016
The measure is part of a larger plan to ease the negative effects on Thailand’s natural conversation areas, including those in the Andaman Sea. Koh Tachai’s beaches and reefs are popular with snorkelers and divers, which results in heavy footfall on the island. Authorities estimate that while the average beach on Koh Tachai can comfortably accommodate about 70 people, it typically hosts around 1,000 at a time, including tourists, tour boats, and food vendors. Thailand concluded that the only solution is a travel ban.
The Kingdom of Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The southeast Asian country attracts tens of millions of tourists each year, many of whom flock to its beautiful island parks, which has raised concerns about damage to natural resources and the environment of the islands. Koh Tachai itself is officially not a tourist spot but a preserve. Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a professor of environmental studies at Thailand’s Kasetsart University, praised the measure as necessary.
“If it’s not closed now, we’ll lose Koh Tachai permanently,” he said to Condé Nast Traveler, who also noted that tourists and divers will still be able to go to two deep dive sites in the Similan Islands.
“Koh Tachai will be closed for business (except for two remote dive sites accessible via the island) as of October 15. The island is only the latest destination to restrict the number of tourists allowed to visit, although it has taken a more extreme stance than others. The Greek island of Santorini announced in March that it would cap cruise ship visitors to 8,000 per day in order to reduce congestion, while the five villages comprising Italy’s Cinque Terre will begin selling a limited number of tickets to visit the site as of the 2017 tourism season.”
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) May 16, 2016
Because Thailand gave warning that Koh Tachai would be closing three months in advance, tourists are being warned that shady tour companies may still try to sell trips to the island after October 15. Notably, Thon Thamrongnawasawat told the Post that when he was speaking at a tourism fair organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, he found that 14 companies were still selling tour packages to Koh Tachai.
As a result of the closure, popular tourist spots including Koh Adang, Koh Rawi, and Koh Hinngam, and popular diving spots have been closed, though Koh Lipe will remain open during its usual time of year.
[Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]