Tourism + Climate Change = Famous Thai Islands Closed

640px-Thailand_patong_beach

Several of Thailand’s best known islands, including the spot made famous in the film “The Beach,” are closed indefinitely due to concerns of both damage from tourists and coral bleaching connected to climate change.

Part of this is a sustainability issue. Tourism is growing rapidly around the world, meaning that more and more people are visiting popular destinations such as Thailand — which was the 10th most visited country in the world in 2014, according to the World Tourism Organization, with more than 26 million tourists visiting the Southeast Asian nation. That is a staggering increase of 24 percent from 2013.

Unfortunately, tourists can have a negative impact on the environment, something that is plainly becoming a problem in Thailand. More visitors coming to the same beaches equals more trash and more erosion. The recent spate of people taking selfies with animals resulting in their deaths is a testament to the adverse impacts of tourism. In Thailand, the biggest problem was massive crowds.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy dean of the Faculty of Fisheries of Kasetsart University, told the Bangkok Post that there were sometimes well over 1,000 tourists on a beach on Koh Tachai that could hold up to 70 people, as well as tour boats and food stalls.

“This caused the island to quickly deteriorate. If it’s not closed now, we’ll lose Koh Tachai permanently,” he said.

In some places near the popular island destination Phuket, 80 percent of coral reefs are damaged due to too many people diving and not keeping a safe distance from these precious marine lifeforms. In other places, overcrowding of speedboats increased pollution and damaged fragile coastlines.

This is not inevitable, of course – ethical tourism can allow visitors to appreciate and enjoy a place, while preserving it for others to also enjoy. This is what helped countries like Costa Rica and Botswana preserve their natural environments in a way that allows people to enjoy the true beauty of nature.

There is another issue, of course: climate change, which is impacting every part of the world. If it is not tackled, it will result in the destruction of not only Thailand’s pristine coastal environment, but also countless pieces of natural heritage around the world, no matter how few tourists come to visit. Coral bleaching, for example, is accentuating the impacts of tourism on Thailand’s coral reefs.

What is happening in Thailand could be a sign of what’s to come. It is a warning to us. We need to increase the viability of ethical, environmentally-friendly tourism — both through good behavior and initiatives to ensure that impacts are mitigated on the ground. And we also must move forward on the Paris Agreement goals, ensure that warming stays below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and put more research and funding into how we can prevent climate impacts, such as coral bleaching.

Otherwise, tourism may drop — not because people don’t want to travel, but because there just aren’t any beautiful places left to visit.

Photo Credit: Neitram via Wikimedia Commons

Climate & Environment

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Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

8 responses

  1. Note that the article says NOTHING about climate change adversely affecting anything. Oversized crowds are damaging the beaches. Then the author adds that in his opinion climate change is going to ruin the world… so he can title this piece that tourism plus climate change is causing the beaches to be closed. What a line of horse $hit! This writer has no credibility whatsoever!

    1. Coral bleaching which is one of the major reasons for the closures is directly related to climate change.

  2. The best and smartest thing the authorities could do to protect Thailand’s strikingly beautiful beaches is to restrict the use of jetskis and speedboats. It’s absurd that they are allowed to go pretty much anywhere they want while swimmers are confined to narrow ‘safe zones’ or risk being mangled. Not to mention the noise and petrol pollution …

  3. That was my first thought, too, UpLateAgain. His goals are so obvious. I’m all for keeping the tourism down to preserve the natural world, but this is 100% about tourism. Is it any wonder so many of us don’t buy into what they’re selling when this is the type of crap that passes as journalism today. Garbage!

  4. . Africa Will Starve and Asia Will Drown in 30 Years Due to Climate Change. People in Asia and the Pacific are four times more likely to be affected by natural disaster than in Africa and 25 times more than in Europe or North America. Global warming could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050. The World Bank alarm bells are just the latest to sound about the havoc climate change and man-made global warming will cause to the planet. And 15 Cities Threatened by Climate Change. https://www.facebook.com/sasraiMovement.2004

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  6. @sasrai : Sure. And the oceans are going to rise 20 feet by 2050 (2000 prediction). Only if that were true, they should have risen a good 6 feet by now. But in fact, they have risen about 3/8 inch…….. entirely within perfectly normal variations. They have been making computer modeling predictions of melting ice and ocean rising since around 1993… and NONE of the predictions have come even remotely close. NONE. Al Gore spent 33 million on So CAL oceanfront property in 2010 because he knew perfectly well the predictions were garbage. And until you can actually match predictions to results, your dire prognostications don’t do anybody any good….. but they do a great deal of harm. Shame on you!

  7. This is economic and environmental issue. It’s good to see some action being taken on behalf of these fragile destinations. If the beaches are no longer beautiful because too many tourists degrade it, then tourism will decline.

    I think at the end of the day, we need more information for tourists so they can understand and mitigate their impact while traveling.

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