This summer Maya Bay, on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, will be closed to tourists as authorities attempt to reverse decades of damage done to the region’s marine environment.
The closure will take place from June to September, during the island’s low season, in order to give its coral reef time to recover. While similar measures have been introduced on other Thai islands – in 2016 local authorities closed Koh Tachai – it is the first time tourists will be forbidden from visiting Maya Bay.
Maya Bay gets up to 5,000 visitors a day, with most tourists traveling by boat from Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. Much of that tourism has been spurred by the film The Beach, released in 2000 and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a movie that, ironically, tells the story of a backpacker on a quest to find the perfect, untouched. beach.
Almost 80% of Thailand’s coral reefs have been destroyed, according to Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy dean of the faculty of fisheries at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, with the primary causes being beachfront hotels, boat anchors and plastic waste being dumped in the sea.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Thamrongnawasawat said that while temporary closures can help to an extent, the “ideal solution” would be for the bay to be closed permanently. Thon has long been outspoken about the need to protect Thailand’s marine parks and has warned about the risk from tourism. During a visit to the bay in 2016, he described the beach as being so densely crowded he was left speechless.
Those familiar with the region are aware of overcrowding at the bay. Sam Clark of Experience Travel says the tour operator ceased suggesting its guests go on boat trips to Maya Bay “long ago”.
“While it’s a very pretty bay and recognizable from The Beach, visiting it with a flotilla of boats and hordes of other tourists rather detracted from the magic,” he said. “If the bay needs to be closed to allow for recovery time in the low season, I can only welcome that.”
Clark added: “The Thai authorities have the benefit of seeing what unchecked development over a 40-year period did to regions of Spain and other places, so they can hopefully learn from that.”
Tourism is important in Thailand with some reports estimating it accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP. Visitor numbers have tripled since 2004 and in 2017 exceeded 35m arrivals.
(Via: The Guardian)