The visitation levels to Pulau Payar Marine Park cannot be sustained at present levels unless appropriate management actions are taken. At present, the 5,000% increase in visitor numbers in the last seven years is a change that is unacceptable, given the potential negative impacts on the reefs, the saturation of facilities, the inadequacy of sewage and solid waste disposal facilities and the decline in visitor satisfaction.
Nonetheless, acceptable changes are scientifically difficult to quantify, as there is little agreement about what constitutes a healthy reef in different parts of the world, and also what impacts would be likely to cause an unacceptable departure from this normal healthy state. Tourism wise, acceptable changes might be small as aesthetics are important. It is important for reef managers to recognize that damage caused by recreational activities will reduce a reef's attractiveness as a tourist site. It must be realized that although the damage may have a gradual impact on the actual ecology of the reef, visitor numbers are likely to fall sharply as soon as the aesthetic appeal of the corals is affected (Wells & Price, 1992). Thus the threats from tourism and external activities affect not only the Marine Park environment itself but also threaten the long term sustainability of the tourism industry there. The tourism industry of the surrounding region, especially Pulau Langkawi, could also be potentially affected as Pulau Payar Marine Park is an important attraction for many tourists to Pulau Langkawi. Other important sectors such as fisheries would also be adversely affected.
Pulau Payar Marine Park thus needs to be managed such that minimal damage to the reef environment occurs as a result of tourism development and activities. As such, specific management objectives and a detailed management plan are essential. These must be taken into consideration in the overall planning and management of Pulau Langkawi, whose close proximity and potential downstream impacts would affect the Marine Park. Appropriate management actions can minimize the impacts of tourists on coral reefs and hence alleviate degradation, improve visitor satisfaction and ensure the adequate provision of necessary facilities.
Measures such as zoning the Marine Park, gazetting the islands as State Parks, implementing an education and awareness programme, enforcing Marine Park regulations, limiting visitor use, establishing monitoring and evaluation programmes and capacity building are all important management actions that can be taken. Coupled with the promotion of alternative activities and alternative islands to disperse pressure on the reefs of Pulau Payar Marine Park, these actions can help ensure that the tourism industry at the Marine Park is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.