‘Koh Taoism’ is an initiative by local businesses to preserve Koh Tao and its reefs and lessen the environmental impact of tourism on the island. The slogan hasn’t yet made it onto the web, but if you visit the island you can’t miss it.
Most of the large dive operators have signed up to the Marine Branch of Save Koh Tao which involves regular clean-up dives, among other things. These clean-up dives are free for certified divers, are great fun and you even get a certificate. Back on firm ground you can take part in the regular beach clean-ups which are usually followed by a party. On an individual level there is a drive to reduce plastic usage on the island. Plastic bags blown into the sea can kill turtles and other marine life. The 7:11 staff will act surprised if you bring your own bag along, but a few of the smaller shops and cafés support the ‘no plastic is fantastic’ initiative and use paper bags instead.
It’s a start. Koh Tao, it seems, is adapting to green tourism. But is it too late? Is this just scratching the surface or—cynics might suggest—putting a green spin on what is outright exploitation? After all there is no shortage of operators happy to charge big bugs for volunteer programs and conservation courses, and with over 40 dive operators crammed onto the island the impact might be just too much.
Well, yes and no. The best way for conservation would be to restrict visitor numbers and development on the island, but development is largely completed (bigger resorts are actively discouraged: here community initiative is vital in the absence of any real planning regulation) and tourism in this part of Thailand is a fact. Educating people about the need for conservation in the face of damage they can clearly see is more than greenwash. It is the way forward for more eco-conscious travel.
However, unless action is taken, there isn’t much point in monitoring the destruction. If the coral is bleaching, restocking and installing artificial reefs isn’t the answer. And if nutrient influx threatens to smother the reef, a wastewater treatment scheme will have to be instigated. Constructed wetlands are a low-tech approach that could be feasible on Koh Tao, but somebody will have to get their hands dirty and put their money where their mouth is.