Authorities plan to close the country’s national parks for several months each year to reduce environmental damage at popular tourist spots, says Varawut Silpa-archa, the environment and natural resources minister.
The closure of the parks during the coronavirus pandemic has allowed the natural habitat to recover from the hordes of tourist crowds and brought a return of wildlife, like whales and turtles, to Thailand’s world-famous beaches, Mr Varawut said.
The number of visitors has dropped substantially since the Covid restrictions have been in force.
Authorities now want to close the parks annually for two to four months at a time, starting from next year, in order to improve the conservation of the areas, he said.
“This is so that nature can rehabilitate itself and the park rangers can improve the parks,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg in Bangkok.
Thailand has more than 100 national parks, which cover the mountain regions in the north to tropical islands in the south, containing popular attractions such as the Phi Phi Islands and Phangnga Bay.
More than 20 million people visited national parks in the 2019 fiscal year and contributed 2.2 billion baht in park fees, according to data from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
However, some beaches, islands and other natural attractions have struggled to cope with the number of foreign visitors, which reached nearly 40 million in 2019. The government predicts the number of visitors will plummet to less than 7 million this year because of Covid-related travel bans.
Mr Varawut said the park closures would be staggered across the country.
Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, will remain closed until much of the area has recovered from the damage of mass tourism, the minister said, adding that the bay’s coral reefs could take up to 40 years to return.