Years of solid growth have created an economy on Ko Tao heavily depending on tourist arrivals, and in particular divers attracted by its azure seas and pristine dive sites. This dependency is set to continue for years to come.
How the island’s residents and dive industry stakeholders manage that dependency while protecting the island’s delicate marine resources is a crucial challenge.
The economic impact of eco-friendly tourism is easier when it is effectively preserving Ko Tao’s natural resources. Good resource management and sustainable environmental policies mean more tourist dollars, regardless of how successful government policies have been so far.
Dive operators on the island believe the Thai government does far more than other Southeast Asian nations to promote ecotourism and green awareness among both Thai and international tourists. Still, most claim that the serious work on a grassroots level is being done by the tour operators themselves.
Together the private sector has collectively created the ‘5Rs’ dedicated to reducing, reusing, repairing, recycling and rejecting:
- Reduce consumption of fresh raw materials, un-recyclable packaging or any waste producing material
- Reuse or repurpose items that can be used again like glass bottles, boxes or paper
- Repair to fix and reuse an item instead of buying a new one
- Recycle all materials that can be transformed into a new product
- Reject or stop using any item or material that pollutes or harms the environment
Other informal groups include the ‘Save Ko Tao Club’, whose efforts date back to 2000. Its goal of conserving the island’s natural resources and environment including local traditions is an important case study in sustainable tourism development on Ko Tao.
It advocates eco-friendly products and best practices like refillable bathroom amenities, energy saving lightbulbs, line drying laundry, and using recycled wood in the building and maintenance of resort villas.
It also captures and uses rainwater, whilst providing a filtration system to provide drinking water from the tap that reduces the number of plastic bottles brought to and in use on Ko Tao.
‘Trash Hero’ is a sustainable, community-based initiative on Ko Tao set up to help remove current waste as well as find ways to reduce future waste by inspiring long-term behaviour change. Trash Hero sets an important example when visitors see its team cleaning up Sairee Beach twice a week.
‘Get Involved Koh Tao’ is also a community-based conservation initiative to help preserve the natural resources and environment of Ko Tao. It is a group of Dive Centres joining forces to organise a monthly clean-up to remove waste and to courage locals and tourists to ‘get involved’ by saying no to the use of plastic straw, cup and bag.
Ban’s Conservation Learning Centre Koh Tao is another community-based conservation initiative, an eco-friendly organisation dedicated to preserving the island’s natural resources.
It operates a waste separation plant for recycling paper, aluminium cans, bottles and plastic whilst also managing a dedicated composting area that ferments fat residue into fertiliser by mixing in grass and organic waste.
It has a wastewater treatment plant that processes grey water, so it can be used for plants and vegetable gardens. Regular workshops are also conducted on how to make candles and liquid soap from recyclables.
Divers are usually among some the most ecologically aware individuals on the planet, and are well schooled that proper diving means avoiding contact with any plant or marine life they encounter. What probably would not occur to any responsible diver is to litter the ocean with objects that should be returned to land for proper disposal. Unfortunately, the reality is such that trash and pollution are common to many dive sites.
Whether it is because of irresponsible fishermen, passing tourists or ocean born litter settling on the seabed, it is something that must not be ignored or accepted to ensure the preservation of marine resources for generations to come.
Beach and dive destinations constantly move in and out of favour, but they always bounce back. With Ko Tao’s ongoing sustainable, community-based initiatives, the island’s marine environment is always prepared to handle future generations of eco-aware divers and tourists.