The Thai government has banned holidaymakers from staying overnight on the Similan islands in a bid to tackle environmental problems caused by mass tourism.
The moratorium came into force on Tuesday and covers all overnight stays except those operated by licensed deep-sea diving companies, according to local media.
The number of daily visitors to the tropical archipelago will also be limited to 3,325 from January 1, 2019, while boats with a capacity of more than 100 will be banned. It is not clear how long the measures will be in place for.
Located some 50 miles northwest of Phuket, the 11-island Similan archipelago sits in the protected Mu Koh National Park and currently welcomes more than 5,000 tourists a day, who come to bathe on its beaches and swim amid colourful coral reefs.
In recent years, however, Similan has become a victim of its own popularity with reports that its once-pristine marine environment is showing signs of degradation.
It’s a familiar story across Thailand where the authorities have been battling to bring degraded ecosystems back from the brink, with Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi being one of the more famous examples. Popularised in the Hollywood film, The Beach, its sandy shores and coral gardens have been closed indefinitely to tourists since June, due to environmental damage wrought by mass tourism.
The bay has lost much of its marine life and an estimated 80 per cent of its coral, due to harm caused by snorkellers, divers, boats, anchors and sunscreen-covered swimmers. The most rapid deterioration has occurred over the last ten years.
Telegraph Travel’s Matilda Battersby had a disappointing visit to Maya Bay last year and was glad to hear that it had closed.
“Viewed from the approach, the famous golden sands looked busier than Brighton beach during a heatwave,” she said. “The non-stop arrivals and departures of keen travellers who had to leap off boats and paddle through the beautiful, clear waters to access May Bay was chaotic at best and potentially life-threatening at worst.”
Thailand as a whole is experiencing a huge surge in international visitors, with arrivals increasing 123 per cent since 2010. In June, the country approved the construction of two new airports to cope with the influx, one in Chiang Mai to the north and another in Phuket.
The Philippines, too, is contending with a similar issue, where mass tourism comes up against delicate ecosystems. Its island paradise, Boracay, which was closed to visitors in April for the same reasons, is preparing to reopen next week.
Environmentalists have voiced concerns that the island is not ready to welcome tourists again. A recent article in The Philippine Star, meanwhile, claimed that of the 2,474 hotels and restaurants inspected by authorities, only 560 were found to be compliant with new regulations enforcing responsible disposal of waste.
Images of half-dug trenches, uninstalled sewage pipes and impassable roads have also been shared on social-media, prompting the news website Rappler to liken the island to a “war zone”.
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