Rebranding the Similan Islands

The Similan Islands national park has now set very strict limits for both divers and snorkelers. Most importantly for Big Blue Diving, is the 525 divers per day allowed entry into the Similans. But before we go into the details, just a small amount of history…

A New Thailand

After the closure of Koh Tachai in 2016, then Maya bay in 2017, the DNP (Department of National Parks) have turned their attention to the Similan Islands. Positive efforts to reduce the overcrowding issues that have become an increasing problem on the Similans have just been introduced.

Maya Bay indefinetly closed to tourists. Now blacktip reef sharks return to the beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio
Maya Bay indefinitely closed to tourists. Now blacktip reef sharks return to the beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s 1999 movie.

The photo above shows blacktip reef sharks returning (in large numbers) to Maya bay after just a few months of closure. Maya bay was becoming infamous for massive overcrowding and being a conservationist horror story. So to see such positive effects in a relatively short time is great news and proof that these measures can work. So what exactly is changing in the Similan Islands?

Similan National Park rules update October 2018

Similan Islands National Park rules diving & snorkeling update October 2018What’s changed?

By far the biggest change for the Similans is the new restriction on snorkellers. Now restricted to 3,325 visitors a day. This number sounds large but is a huge reduction compared to swarms of tourists visiting in the last few years. This is without a doubt, a huge improvement.

New Scuba Diving rules

There have also been big changes for us divers. Most importantly, in the same style as Sipadan, Malaysia, there are now a maximum of 525 tickets available each day. These tickets are first come, first serve and can be bought up to 60 days in advance. So if you only take away one thing from this blog….

If you want to go diving in the Similan Islands, book your space at least 60 days in advance!

The statement from the National Park

The national park chief, Ruamsin Manajongprasert, said the national park has to deal with two major issues; excessive tourism and ecosystem degradation. Changes have been tried before, but they insist this time things are different. He stated:

“I am confident that our national park officers are now ready to perform their duties to look after the tourists’ safety and preserve the islands’ rich ecosystems, which will ensure that our next generations will have a chance to appreciate the natural beauties of our national parks,” Ruamsin Manajongprasert

The high number of boats that got refused entry in last last few days for not having the correct licenses suggests that they mean business this time.

The Similan Islands; Thailand’s new ‘high-end’ diving destination

Of course some tour operators have not been too happy about these new decisions, but the DNP insist the rules are here to stay. Professor Emphandhu (researcher on tourism management of the Similan National Park) said that tourist numbers have been too high and tickets sold too cheaply. He suggested tour operators rebrand the Similans as a ‘high-end destination’. If operators work together with the National park to help protect the fragile ecosystem, surely it will be better for everyone in the long term.

Big Blue’s first Similan liveaboard

So finally we can move on to the fun stuff. We would like to thank Scotty, Jai and all of our Divemaster guests from Big Blue Koh Tao. Also big thanks to Stephen, Michael and Jan for joining our first Similan liveaboard trip.

Hallelujah Similan Liveaboard group photo big blue diving khao lakThank you to everyone for making the trip so enjoyable. We had some great dives, got to try a new dive site (more on that soon), the stereo was always on and in the evenings the drinks kept on flowing. Congratulations to Stuart on your 100th dive, that was a particularly interesting one. From the sounds of it, we will hopefully be seeing some of you guys again soon. We will come over to visit you at Big Blue Koh Tao (link) as soon as we can.

Richelieu Rock

Richelieu Rock still looks incredible, apart from one thing. On the main pinnacle, next to the big channel on the west side, was a huge fishing net. The net was wrapped around the rock covering parts of the bay, the Northwest wall and stretching right over the top of the rock. The largest part of the net was bunched up so there were not too many fish getting caught inside. However, the damage to some of the corals is heartbreaking.

Big Blue divemasters removing fishing net from Richelieu Rock
Big Blue divemasters removing part of the net. Assistance from MV Hallelujah, Deep Andaman Queen and Dolphin Queen.

Teaming up with the koh tao divemasters, we did our best to remove what we could. Smaller parts of the net were easier to remove. Although even these smaller chunks were still very heavy, we were able to lift some to the surface. The main net was far too big for us to tackle. It looked like a full size trawler net. So when we got signal, we sent our report to the DMCR (Depmartment of Marine coastal resources). We were informed they would send someone from the national park to inspect it the next day.

Surin National Park, with assistance from the Venus Marina, clearing fishing net from Richelieu Rock
Surin National Park, with assistance from the Venus Marina, clearing fishing net from Richelieu Rock

Working together

It is important to point out that these nets can come from anywhere. Ghost nets can get cut loose from fishing boats anywhere in the ocean, and can drift huge distances. It has been made very clear to us this season that the DNP are now making huge efforts to protect the national parks. We fully respect these decisions and offer our full support in maintaining the Similan islands and Surin Islands reputation as world class diving destinations. We still hope to get some clarification from the DNP about some of the new rules. But overall, with reduced numbers of both divers and snorkelers, we think we could be in for an amazing season.