Sharks or humans? Thailand's conservation puzzle

STORY: For nearly four years, Thailand's famous Maya Bay had no tourists.

In 2018 authorities shut it off to mitigate against excessive tourism

and then the global health crisis kept people away even longer.

The solitude made way for new visitors.

Blacktip Reef Sharks.

They reclaimed the shallow waters, at the same time, marine life thrived and damaged coral was revived.

But in January 2022, tourists flooded back with Thailand's tourism industry eager to make up for lost time and money.

The area is now facing a tough balancing act between humans and sharks.

Conservationists from 'Maya Shark Watch' have been studying the population of blacktip sharks.

Using underwater cameras and drones to count sharks in feeding areas and breeding grounds.

"We have counted the highest amount of blacktip reef sharks, which is 161 sharks at a given time, and that is in November 2021. And after it was reopened for a year, in November 2022, we have come back to try and use the same drone technique to count the number of sharks, and we have an average number of around 20 to 40 sharks per day. So, we have seen a decrease in the abundance."

Project Manager Metavee Chuangcharoendee says the shallow waters of Maya Bay act as a crucial nursery for young sharks

to protect them from falling prey to adult sharks.

'Blacktip reef shark is important for the ecosystem because it helps maintain the balance of the coral reef ecosystem. Blacktop reef shark is a top predator, so they eat other sick and unwell animals and keep the population healthy as well as control the population of other animals.'

When Maya Bay closed, the beach lost almost halved its revenue in 2019.

The 2022 reopening came after pressure from tour operators

but conservationists got their say too.

Tourists now aren't allowed to swim so they don't disturb the baby sharks.

Boats that bring visitors have to dock on the other side of the island to avoid damaging coral reefs.

And Only 375 visitors are allowed in an hour although that does already add up to nearly 4,000 people each day

with more expected in the future.

'We are hoping that with the restriction in place, we can mitigate the disturbance on them. And we are doing this research in (the) hope that we can find the best way to manage and the best way for tourism and the environment to coexist.'