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Closing Maya Bay – Tough steps to save reeling paradise

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By Piyaporn Wongruang

The young American backpacker Richard found his way to Bangkok, arriving in Khao San Road bustling with backpackers, before venturing further to a so-called paradise, where he joined the neo-hippie lifestyle pursued by a number of adventurous tourists who arrived before him.

It’s Maya Bay on Phi Phi Island, famously chosen as the so-called paradise setting for the popular 2000 film, “The Beach”, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio starring as Richard. There, Richard found peace as he sat on the beach, looking into the distance past the deep blue turquoise sea of the nearly deserted bay.

The 1 minute 16 seconds that started the love affair with Maya Bay…

Such is the serenity of the beach and the bay that has been showcased worldwide, that it has ever since earned fame and an endless procession of tourists. But now it is in danger of being ruined. Recent years have seen such a flood of tourists that the beach has now exceeded its capacity. This led to the recent notable action by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), to close the bay in order to give nature a chance to revive before it is too late.

“The location is critical in the sense that it has become a symbol because it is world famous,” said Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of the national marine and coastal resources committee that advises the department.

“If we can do this here, we can do this elsewhere as well.”

Thon, a marine ecologist who has frequented almost all of the islands in the South including Phi Phi, firmly grasps the overload these islands face due to the constant increase in the number of tourists. It’s another chapter in the classic conflict between income generation and sustainable development, this time framed as tourist spending versus sustainable nature. The point is the conflict cannot be resolved in Thailand simply by closing the island to visitors, and Thon knows there will be a number of things to do afterwards.

Thailand still relies heavily on tourism, he said, and it’s one of the prime sectors highlighted in the 20-year national strategy to help drive the country’s GDP. So far, tourism comprises about 20 per cent of total GDP, with total revenue estimated at around Bt3.3 trillion. This income comes largely from the 40 million foreign tourists; more than 70 per cent tend to visit the country’s popular marine locations, Thon noted. This has caused several popular marine spots to become crowded with foreign tourists who wish to appreciate their beauty, particularly the three main attractions in the Had Nopparat Tara-Mu Ko Phi Phi marine park, where Maya Bay is located.

About 4,000 tourists and 200 boats daily travel into and out of Maya Bay, said Thon. Some 5 million tourists will this year visit Maya Bay and the other two critical marine parks – Similan and Ao Phang-nga – with an increasing portion coming from China. This number, Thon noted, was greater than the total number of tourists visiting countries like Chile and the Maldives.

“These three parks alone see some 5 million tourists, which is more than the number visiting some countries. This is something that we need to understand first – the tourists and the income they would generate.

“On the other hand, our national parks were created to serve educational purposes. It’s impossible for them to receive such a huge number of tourists. I’m talking about our management now, that is no longer valid for the situation,” said Thon.

Recognising the heavy pressure on the ecosystem from the growth in tourist numbers, the national marine and coastal resources committee decided to call a meeting over a week ago to discuss the situation. It decided to close Maya Bay for four months from June to September, an action that Thon calls a strike.

“It’s the way that we will rebalance what is at stake,” said Thon.

Giving nature a chance Songtham Suksawang, director of the DNP’s National Parks Office felt relieved after the first critical step was taken. As the office’s director who oversees 150 national parks nationwide, of which 26 are embattled marine parks, Songtham conceded that the department clearly felt the pinch about a year ago.

As reported by the department’s study team, Songtham had learned about some damage done to the bay by tourists. The beach sand had become tightly packed due to the weight of the loads of tourists who were roaming on it, with other parts eroding and leaving tree roots exposed. If left unattended, the damage would have become irreparable, Songtham said, and that’s the reason why a meeting of the committee was called to discuss the worsening situation.

The department chief, Thanya Netithammakul, then made the policy clear that income generated by tourists was not more important than sustainable resources. That policy helped the committee do what was needed and close Maya Bay to give nature a chance to rehabilitate the environment.

According to Songtham, new management approaches will be introduced to Maya Bay. The number of visiting tourists will be cut by half when it’s reopened, along with the number of boats transporting them to the site. With those numbers halved, and with the help of technology to help guide stagger the times of arrival on the beach, plus a newly introduced route to the beach, the department is hoping that both the beach itself and the park officials patrolling it, could receive and handle the traffic better than before.

If successful, it could lead to changes at other critically endangered beaches and bays in other marine parks. Meanwhile, the department has hired some university researchers to study potential management approaches, Songtham said.

“It’s the challenge of modern national park management – how can we attract tourists to come and enjoy the places while ensuring our resources remain sustainable?” said Songtham.

“We may need to redefine those who come to us as ‘visitors’. Then we could deal with them and guide them better, as our parks are for educational purposes, not purely mass tourism. And as such, we need to equip our visitors with some knowledge.”

For a marine ecologist like Thon, he has hopes that at least the coral reefs could be rehabilitated. Once the beach is closed, he is planning to lead a small team of marine ecologists to replant and nurture the bay’s coral reefs, with the hope that over the next four months they would grow and once again bloom underwater.

The national strategy committee has addressed the growth and maintenance of the coral reefs as part of sustainable marine and coastal systems. They want to limit decline to no more than 50 per cent over the next five years, and with rehabilitation reduce that to no more than 20 per cent over the next 20 years. The health of reefs “are sort of prime indicators that would help lead to other relevant actions”, said Thon.

“We would not be able to protect them all, but we must at least where we can, and with an effort to figure out how we can control tourism to not have as much impact as it is now.”

Closing Maya Bay - Tough steps to save reeling paradise | News by The Thaiger

 

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Protests

Pro-democracy protest leaders hear lèse majesté charges

Caitlin Ashworth

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Pro-democracy protest leaders hear lèse majesté charges | The Thaiger
PHOTO: INN News

Pro-democracy protest leaders reported to police today to hear lèse majesté charges which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for insulting or defaming the Thai Monarchy.

The ongoing protests have opened discussion questioning the Thai Monarchy, a move considered taboo in Thai society and also risky as “insulting” or “defaming” statements could violate the lèse majesté law under Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code.

Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.

The 5 leaders are facing charges over the September 19 to 20 rally where the protesters placed a plaque in an area near the Grand Palace, declaring Thailand “belongs to the people.” The plaque has since been removed.

A lèse majesté complaint was filed by a leader of the pro-government “multi-coloured shirts movement” Tul Sittisomwong who said the protesters had “once again crossed the line,” according to an earlier report from the Bangkok Post.

“I don’t mind if they talked about politics, the prime minister or the constitution because they have the right to do so, but not about the monarchy.”

The protest leaders responding to police summonses include Arnon Nampha, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panusya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong “Mike” Chadnok and Patiwat Saraiyaem, who is known as “Molam Bank.”

Arnon, who is a human rights lawyer, says he’s not worried about the charge and believes it will be cleared. The activists were accompanied by 2 counsel from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

“It is now time for us to speak straightforwardly about the royal institution. Even if what we say goes unheard and laws are used to shut our mouths, we will continue to fight.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thailand

Thailand News Today | Digital Travel Pass, Chiang Mai outbreak, Alcohol ban | November 30

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Thailand News Today | Digital Travel Pass, Chiang Mai outbreak, Alcohol ban | November 30 | The Thaiger

Monday’s edition of Thailand News Today.

An international Digital Travel Pass could be the magic bullet to restart global tourism

A new international Travel Pass, a sort of digital health certificate, may be the way forward for countries to re-open their borders and international airlines to get their planes back into the air.

The International Air Transport Association says the ‘digital’ certificate will support the safe reopening of borders.

As Covid-19 testing and the results becomes more reliable and nuanced, Governments are looking to testing as a means of limiting most of risks of Covid-19 when reopening their borders. The hope is that the new Travel Pass will replace the quarantine regime imposed by many countries and the hopes that a vaccine alone will solve the problems.

2 more cases identified in the northern Thailand Covid-19 mini outbreak

2 more people have been confirmed as infected with Covid-19 in the current mini-outbreak in Northern Thailand.

In this case both women had crossed the Thai/Myanmar border and worked at the same bar in Myanmar as the original patient, feared to be a potential super-spreader.

The 2 women, aged 23 and 26, illegally crossed the Burmese border at Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai, from a border town on the Burmese side of the border, last Thursday night.

All 3 went to work there last month, but returned to Thailand after Burmese health authorities imposed a curfew from midnight to 4am.

Another 4 people have since been identified as “high risk” and are all being tested today. When added to the food delivery and hotel staff, the amount of people considered “at risk” could be up to 30.

Children injured on Hua Hin carnival ride, no safety certification submitted

3 children were injured when a carnival ride malfunctioned at the Hua Hin Red Cross Festival in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The required safety certification had not been submitted and local officials are investigating. Carnival rides now are closed for the rest of the festival.

10 children were on the ride around 10pm Friday when the hydraulics system broke, causing the arms of the ride to drop to the ground. The injured were taken to the Bangkok Hua Hin Hospital with some bruises. Doctors said all the kids are now fine.

Twitter suspends Thai royalist linked account which spread pro-government propaganda

A Thai royalist-linked account was suspended on Twitter following a review by Reuters reporters that found the account was spreading pro-government and pro-monarchy propaganda.

Reuters says they found tens of thousands of tweets from accounts amplifying the pro-government agenda, which an expert claims is a move to counter the pro-democracy movement.

Twitter said… “The account in question was suspended for violating our rules on spam and platform manipulation.”

In October, Twitter suspended 926 accounts linked to the Royal Thai Army which were “amplifying pro-government propaganda.” The Army denies they were associated with the accounts.

Ron Howard to direct cave rescue feature film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Australia

The Australian Government is putting up A$13 million for a live-action feature film called Thirteen Lives, based on the Chiang Rai Tham Luang cave rescue story.

The film will be shot in Queensland, Australia in the hinterland areas behind the Gold Coast.

The film will be directed by Ron Howard and will start filming in March 2021. The state’s Gold Coast hinterland will double for Thailand with a similar hot, humid climate and landscape.

Thirteen Lives follows the story of the 2018 Tham Laung cave rescue of the 13 members of the Mu Pa football team, trapped in a cave by heavy rain and flooding in Chiang Rai, and the international rescue that followed.

The first major feature film about the rescue operation was The Cave, released in October 2019. The film was quite critical of the Thai red-tape which hampered much of the early rescue efforts.

Ban on sales and promotion of alcohol online starts December 7

From December 7 you’ll no longer, officially, be able to purchase alcohol online in Thailand.

The Thai government will prohibit the sales and promotion of alcoholic drinks on every online platform from December 7.

The ban includes direct sales, promotion and introduction of alcoholic products online, but will not include electronic payments of purchases at retail stores, restaurants and bars.

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Crime

12 people arrested for allegedly illegally crossing Thai-Myanmar border

Caitlin Ashworth

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12 people arrested for allegedly illegally crossing Thai-Myanmar border | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Nation Thailand

12 Thais were arrested by Chaing Rai Immigration Police for allegedly illegally crossing the Myanmar border back into Thailand. The arrests follow a small coronavirus outbreak in Northern Thailand while Myanmar reports hundreds of new Covid-19 cases each day.

Over the weekend, a 29 year old Thai woman tested positive for Covid-19 in Chiang Mai after visiting the hospital with flu-like symptoms. She recently returned to Thailand from Myanmar where she worked at a bar in Tachileik. 2 other women, ages 23 and 26, worked at the same bar tested positive for Covid-19 after returning to Thailand, Chiang Rai public health officials reported today.

Of the 12 people recently arrested for illegally crossing the Thai-Myanmar border, 4 of them were arrested yesterday after a woman made a post on Facebook saying her and her friends used a natural route to cross into Thailand. They allegedly told police they were working illegally in Myanmar.

8 other Thai women were arrested today for illegally crossing the border from Tachileik into Chiang Rai. They allegedly told police that they each paid 6,500 baht to Myanmar traffickers to avoid border checks.

The women told police that most Thais returning home from Myanmar were in the country working at entertainment venues.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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