The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation is refusing to bow to pressure from tour operators in Phang-nga for it to ease restrictions on visitors to the Similan Islands.
Songtham Suksawang, director of the National Parks Division of the department, said the decision to limit the number of daily visitors to 3,325, plus another 525 visitors for scuba diving, was intended to preserve the environment.
Overnight Similan stays are also banned under the current guidelines.
He said the department does not want a repeat of the situation of previous years when the number of daily visitors spiralled to 6,000 to 7,000 on some days, well beyond the capability of the islands to cope.
“The department doesn’t want to see the Similans end up like Maya Bay in nearby Krabi province, which was recently closed indefinitely due to extensive damage caused to coral reefs and the beach from unlimited visitors,” Songtham said.
The parks division chief said he was not worried by the protest of tour operators, who claimed that their business would be affected by the restriction because they had already accepted advance bookings from tourists to visit the Similans and that they were given little notice about the restrictions.
Songtham said: “Park officials had been discussing with the representatives of the operators throughout the past year about the overcrowding problems and about measures to limit the numbers to preserve the environment for the long-term benefit of all parties.”
Only a few tourists visited the Similans yesterday – the second day of the two-day boycott imposed by tour operators to protest against the restrictions.
Tour operators have been taking tourists to Koh Surin over the past two days.