Registration requirement for scuba divers
Thailand is back in the limelight. This time, it is not because of its dream beaches, friendly people or dream dive spots around Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai or the Similan Islands. Rather, it is due to new proposed restrictions for dive centres, among other things.
According to media reports, the Thai government wants to increase the level of protection of the reefs and dive spots. At first, this appears to be good news… For the start, it intends to make it compulsory for dive centres in the Andaman Sea to be registered. With the pending completion of the Smart National Park 4.0 project, the launch of a new app in October is expected to make the management of national parks more efficient. The new registration requirement is expected to reduce the possibility of popular dive spots and destination being damaged due to excessive use.
Besides the registration requirement, it was reported that all national parks around Phuket would be closed by mid-October to allow them to recover from the stresses of the tourist season. This guideline also applies to the highly popular Maya Bay at Koh Phi Phi, which would be closed from July to September.
Several years ago, at BOOT in Düsseldorf, the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced the closure of the national parks due to intensive tourist use and the resultant damage. However, nothing came out of it, and there was talk amongst insiders in the tourism industry that there was only a strategically planned media campaign only for backing the tourism organisation.
Holger Schwab, owner of the well-known dive centre SeaBees, bears witness to the situation. "Yes, I've heard that, but it does not really make sense because the problem is not caused by scuba divers, but is existent due to the masses of snorkelers. However, if Project 4.0 also involves the regulation of the latter group, this would be different. We have boats in Khao Lak for about 100 day-trip divers daily. Compared to other destinations, this is nothing,” said Schwab in German, as he explained the uncertain situation in Thailand.
In addition, the islands have recently been increasingly targeted by snorkelers. In fact, SeaBees has stopped using Maya Bay at Koh Phi Phi as a dive site due to the high boat traffic there. A similar situation exists in some other places.
“This is just talk about something that has no real benefit. For years, we have had to submit reports about our divers and snorkelers, and the places they dive. So, why now an app?” Schwab remains unconvinced of the effectiveness of such measures.
“In my opinion, the problem is not the divers but the many speedboats and snorkelers which do not register today and probably won’t be registered in future. An app won't be of much help here,” said Schwab, summing it up.
Other local dive enthusiasts anticipate a well-planned media campaign to show that the natural resources are being looked after and that the destination is once again in the spotlight. Well, for now, success has at least been achieved on the latter objective.