Trouble in Paradise: Sustainable Tourism in Koh Phi Phi

After Leonardo Di Caprio’s starring role in The Beach which featured Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi has been under assault. From tourists, from pollution and from companies desperate to make a quick buck. Thankfully there are people out there putting some serious work into the sustainability of Koh Phi Phi!

People often see Thailand as an image of paradise. Endless limestone cliffs, rolling seas and white beaches are bountiful. Unfortunately, however, it isn’t all plain sailing in the Andaman Sea anymore. Thanks to endless tourism and overcrowding the environment is suffering and struggling to cope. Beaches are disappearing under the tide of rubbish, the seas are filling with plastic and the air can be thick with smog. Sustainable tourism in Thailand is an ambitious goal, with many hands on deck. So what are people doing to help?

The sustainability in Koh Phi Phi is of huge concern to locals and tourists alike.

Full Scale Closure of Koh Phi Phi

Every day the island hosts thousands and thousands of visitors. Even in low season there can be up to 5000 visitors a day and in high season it can be double that. The island and the natural habits simply cannot cope so drastic measures have to be put in place.

The Thai government decreed in 2018 that Koh Phi Phi will close to tourism over the low season in order to allow the island to have a chance at natural regeneration. This decision was received with mixed reviews. Tourists obviously want to visit, locals want to earn a living and hotels/restaurants want clients but at the current rate Phi Phi was headed towards an ecological disaster. The argument that it had to be closed in order to extend the islands life won. After all, people are visiting to see natural beauty not a concrete pit…

Social Reform

It isn’t just governments that are pitching in to save Phi Phi. People have taken to social media to raise awareness and support to combat the issues the island is facing. Thon Thamrongnawasawat is the deputy dean of the Fisheries Department at Kasetsart University and gained notoriety after posting photos of pollution on Phi Phi online. It was his aim to rally the troops in the fight against pollution and gain popular support.

To an extent it works. People are now considering companies who offer ecologically friendly trips on governmentally recognized tourist boats. The government, as we saw above, is taking a tough stance and therefore is heavily punishing those boats operating outside of the law.

Local Support for the Local People

Thankfully the local population is on board with the sustainability of Koh Phi Phi. After all – their livelihoods depend on it. When canvassed for opinion the majority of local hotels and restaurants were happy to participate in ecologically beneficial programs.

The real change has to be wider than those based on Phi Phi itself. Those who stand to lose the most are the boats and companies running out of bases in Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga. There has to be a real change in mindset and understanding in order for them to assist with the measures in place and hopefully it won’t come too late.

Sustainable Tourism Insider Tip

So how can you help? Think about which companies you’re picking for your trip. If their crew are clearly throwing things into the sea don’t go with them. Ask about ecological measures they take. Most importantly make a difference yourself. Don’t leave your rubbish there and try to reduce your use of plastic. We wholeheartedly think that a trip to Phi Phi is worth it, but make sure you travel sustainably. As the Lonely Planet famously says, “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”