The 2018 to 2019 Similan diving season has shown consistent productivity underwater and substantial coral recovery at most Similan dive sites. This is in keeping with what has been experienced over the last few seasons and encouraging for the future of the famous National Park.
There are several factors that could explain the continued improvement at the Similan Islands plus we now have better insight to factors determining coral recovery.
Limits Imposed On The Number Of Daily Similan Visitors
Following the closure of Koh Tachai in 2016 and Maya Bay (the beach that featured in movie The Beach) at Koh Phi Phi in 2018 there are clear signs that there could be a shift within the tourist industry in Thailand lead by the Department of National Parks.
It maybe too early to rejoice but the closure of these popular destinations could be seen as a triumph for nature, shunning tourist income for the good of the environment. At least for the next few years.
Following suit the Similan National Park announced in October that they would be enforcing a limit on the number of daily entrance tickets to the islands in a bold move to better protect the environment and the Park`s natural resources. A daily limit of 3,000 snorkellers and 525 divers was imposed with conditions that all tickets must be bought in advance and each ticket assigned to an individual guest identified by their passport.
How these numbers were determined we shall soon see. As to whether the limits on numbers made any immediate difference it is difficult to make tell. Certainly the beaches looked much more appealing without the hundreds of speedboats clogging up the scenic bays. As to the diving conditions at the Similans the limits could be regarded as another step in the right direction and the continued improvement attributed to better park management in general.
Continued Improvement in Similan Park Resource Management
In 2016 Ruamsin Manajongprasert was appointed chief of the Mu Koh Similan National Park. During his time in this position the facilities at the National Park have been greatly improved along with stricter controls of park resources.
Though it has always been a hotly debated topic amongst dive professionals as to what happens at the islands during their annual six months closure, the abundance of marine life at the start of the season would suggest improved year round policing of the park.
With fish stocks seemingly thriving it would suggest current management of the Similan National Park is working well. There has also been a slight increase in the number of larger fish sightings, mainly reef sharks and rays around some of the islands. Hopefully the limitations on guest numbers will also prove positive to the sustainability of the park. If not then we can expect the number of guests to be cut further.
Coral Recovery and Coral Studies Around the Similan Islands
For the last nine years the state of coral life around the Similan Islands has basically been the current state of coral life versus the state of coral life before the mass coral bleaching that took place in mid 2010. As the Similan reefs still bare the scars of this bleaching epidemic the comparison still remains valid. As we have have documented over the past few years, coral life in the Similans continues to recover.
For the 2018 – 2019 Similan diving season we have witnessed a lot of the former new corals now thriving in healthy colonies. Warty Bush corals were the most noticeable species to return after the bleaching. Now there are many species of Staghorn and Table corals thriving around the National Park.
In December 2018 we were fortunate to accompany the Department of National Parks Command Centre 2 on a three day trip around the Similan Islands to study the corals in greater details. As well as reef studies we also conducted several other experiments to determine not only coral recovery but also the effects diving and snorkeling tourism is having on the ecosystems around the islands.
Along with the DNP there were also notable marine biologists, university professors and students all participating in various studies. It was this team that were influential in determining the number of guests permitted to enter the national park. The numbers, based on their studies should hopefully prevent any further degradation of park resources.
General consensus amongst the team is inline with what we have been witnessing whilst diving around the Similans. The corals are recovering well.
Similan Diving 2019 Conclusion
There is a positive buzz around the local Similan diving community concluding the diving season. Abundant fish life at most dive sites and intense underwater productivity at some of our favourite sites, mainly Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock.
With corals recovering well, decent dives at the Similans are no longer only dependant on fish stocks. Its more like the old days, pre 2010 when impressive corals could make up for lack of fish on a dive site. Right now we have both.
Sadly a lot of our reefs and more fragile corals bare scars from divers. Kicked, broken corals litter areas where divers enter the water or where favourable photography subjects reside. The recovery is well documented by the DNP, but dive operators should beware, so is the impact the dive industry has on the ecosystem.
The current reduction in numbers to the Similan National Park is a compromise. If tourism interferes with recovery or creates further destruction we can expect further limits or a possible closing of the islands in the future. Now more than ever the fate of the environment lays squarely on our shoulders.