Opinion: Funding national parks will lead to long-term results

Assistant Professor Thon Thamrongnawasawat, 49, is a member of the National Reform Council and a professor at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Fisheries. He has a doctorate in Marine Science from James Cook University, Australia and is currently a writer, ichthyologist and an environmental activist.

Here he talks about finding a balance between tourism and preserving the environment at national parks along the Andaman Sea.

PHUKET: The reality is that money is the first thing that we need to resolve this problem. Limiting tourist numbers would help curtail negative effects on the environment, but at this stage it would also reduce our income. So, how do we earn money in an appropriate manner?

It is true many problems have arisen from tourists coming to national parks with bad effects on coral and other marine life. However, as I see it, numbers are not the problem.

If the masses visiting the parks do not destroy marine life, there would not be a problem.

For example, there is no law on how many people can visit Phi Phi, so now the total number of tourists has increased to more than one million a year. If we limit the total to, for example, 300,000 people, where would the rest go?

If only 100 people are allowed to enter per day and they destroy the coral by dropping anchors on them, would it not be better for 1,000 or 10,000 people to come in and not destroy anything? That is the key idea.

Therefore working on changing tourists’ attitudes and officers’ ability to enforce the law are the two key points and in order to tackle them we have to get much needed funds.

National parks, particularly Phi Phi, have very little to work with. They do not have enough officials, boats, or equipment to enforce the law.

Just like any other career, if officials receive enough money to support themselves, then they will love and better focus on their job. However, if they don’t have enough money, they will focus on ways to find the money to support their families rather than their responsibilities.

National parks have laws in place to protect the environment, but they don’t have enough officials or transportation to enforce the law.

For example, Phi Phi National Park’s entrance fee should add up to more than 400 million baht a year. If it receives this amount, Phi Phi would have enough money to more effectively protect the environment and stringently enforce the law.

We brought the issue to Cabinet and the Prime Minister to approve a change in how park fees are collected.

We suggested that fees are paid directly to the central DNP office in Bangkok, similar to the system established by Thai Ticket Major.

By doing this, we can ensure that all fees are being collected properly. Also, the DNP can better regulate the number of tourists visiting certain fragile ecosystems in national parks.

Local national park officers will still be sent out to check that tourists have bought tickets, but will not be permitted to sell tickets.

When we have money, we can add more officials and patrol boats. So sea patrol would be more effective. No tourist boats would be able to drop anchor on coral reefs, discharge waste and get away with many other illegal, detrimental activities, if officials are there waiting to charge them.

It’s only after these measures are implemented that we could look for long-term solutions.

— Kongleaphy Keam

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