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Thailand plans to close down its national parks for many months each year to reduce environmental disruption in famous tourist locations, the minister for the environment said.
The closure of the parks during the disease outbreak has allowed the natural habitat to recover from the hordes of tourist crowds and brought a return of wildlife, such as tortoises and whales, to the world-famous beaches of Thailand, Minister of Natural Resources & Environment Varawut Silpa-archa said. Authorities now want to close the parks for two to four months at a time each year, starting next year, to improve conservation of the areas, he said.
"It is so that nature can rehabilitate itself, and park rangers can enrich the parks," Varawut said in a Bangkok interview.
Thailand has over 100 national parks that cover the mountain areas in the north to tropical islands in the south, with famous attractions such as the Phi Phi Islands and Phang Nga Bay.
Tourism is a key part of the economy in Thailand, contributing roughly one-fifth of a gross domestic product before the pandemic affected foreign tourism. Many of the tropical beaches, islands, and other natural destinations have failed to cope with the number of international tourists, which in 2019 hit almost 40 million. The government estimates that this year's amount of tourists would fall to under 7 million.
Varawut, who has been in the position for about a year, said the closures of a park are expected to stagger around the country.
The Maya Bay of Phi Phi Islands, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio's film "The Beach" will remain closed until most of the area has healed from the damage caused by mass tourism, the minister said, adding that the coral reefs of the bay could take up to 40 years to return.
Since late March, Thailand's borders have been locked to most foreigners to fight the pandemic, but the government is now looking at plans to reopen the country to some tourists to save its troubled tourism market. Its tourism-reliant economy was one of the hardest affected worldwide, estimated to decline this year by a staggering 8.5 percent.