Diving Thailand in COVID. Reef Renaissance?

For most of 2020 and the first half of 2021, many countries around the world have been in lockdown. Governments have been restricting people’s international movements. All the while, The Phinisi and The Junk have been diving Thailand in COVID relatively undisturbed. Is there a positive effect to all this?

What Happened In The Early Pandemic?

Thailand had a very strong early reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the 26th March 2020 the country went into a state of emergency. A nationwide curfew began on the 3rd of April and the day after, international flights were suspended. Phuket, the home of operations for our Thailand vessels, went into serious lock down for around 6 weeks. This was not a fun time for anyone, but it did mean that the government had a handle on the infections within the country fast.

Empty airport terminals have been the recent norm
Empty airport terminals have been the recent norm

Fortunately, domestic travel resumed shortly after the lockdown. People were ready to get out of their homes and travel, even if it was domestically. Fortunately, Thailand is a pretty good place for domestic travel. This meant that from June of 2020 both The Junk and The Phinisi were back in action. And Master Liveaboards was able to welcome guests aboard from within Thailand.

How Has It Been Diving Thailand In COVID?

Months without diving activities, March to October 2020, in world class Thai Marine Parks has to make a difference. Also, take away the majority of boats and you end up with even healthier coral reefs and marine creature populations.

In recent months we have been extremely lucky to see a tiger shark not just once, but twice! There are considerably more schools of fish around in the Similan & Surin Islands. The number of fish per school has also notably increased in many dive sites.

Renske Lauterbach – the Junk
Sea fans are booming without regular contact due to poor buoyancy control

International travel bans have paralysed tourism, which is a boon for any heavily dived reefs. But this should be a chance for change. Or should we say more change? In 2018 a raft of news rules came in across the Similan National Park, including:

  • Limiting the number of divers throughout the park to only 525 per day
  • No entry level courses
  • Single use plastics banned from all parks
  • Island stays no longer allowed

Long May It Continue

In the last few years we have seen multiple islands and national park sites closed to protect the environment. Visitors can no longer visit the beautiful beach on Ko Tachai. Even the world famous Maya Bay, made famous by the movie The Beach, was closed in 2018. There is still no plan to re-open it. If the government is willing to close this cash cow, it shows a willingness to put the environment over income. Or at least to strike a balance.

This balance is now the one that will be more difficult than ever to keep. After fourteen months without precious tourists, those who make their living from the sector are screaming for Thailand to re-open. How will a country, wanting to keep it’s people happy, also continue its drive for sustainable tourism? There is no easy answer, but fingers are crossed that the positive steps continue. There is no better chance for change than now.

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