This pretty stretch of sand in Thailand’s Phi Phi islands has been a bucket-list staple ever since it was the other star — besides Leonardo DiCaprio — of Danny Boyle’s 2000 film "The Beach."
But paradise-like Maya Bay has become the victim of its own popularity.
Damage due to overtourism has forced Thai authorities to close Maya Bay to the public, to allow the suffering coral reef to recover.
The beach is expected to close for three months.
Some 5000 tourists a day visit Maya Bay via boats from the tourism hubs of Phuket and Krabi, contributing to “critical” damage of the precious coral.
And Maya Bay isn’t the only tourist spot in Thailand that’s been forced to close due to environmental damage caused by tourism: It follows the temporary closure of the popular Koh Khai islands and Koh Tachai, which had been considered the most beautiful island in the country.
Some 77 percent of coral reefs in Thailand’s waters have been devastated by destruction linked to tourism, according to marine expert Thon Thamrongnawasawat from Bangkok’s Kasetsart University.
That figure is an increase from 30 percent a decade ago, the German Press Agency reported.
Dr. Thamrongnawasawat said much of the coral damage has been caused by beachfront hotels, as well as plastic rubbish that had been dumped at sea, and boat anchors.
He said temporary closures, such as the three-month shutdown of Maya Bay, could only do so much to repair the damage.
“Temporary closures can help to a certain extent. But an ideal solution is a permanent closure, which is not possible due to our reliance on tourism revenue,” he said.
In May 2016, Thai authorities announced an indefinite shutdown of the hugely popular Koh Tachai, an island off the country’s southern coast.
Tunya Netithammakul, director general of the department of national parks, wildlife and plants conservation explained Koh Tachai needed a chance to recover from damage caused by tourism.
“Thanks to its beauty, Koh Tachai has become a popular tourist site for both Thai and foreign tourists. This has resulted in overcrowding and the degradation of natural resources and the environment,” he told the Bangkok Post.
“We have to close it to allow the rehabilitation of the environment both on the island and in the sea without being disturbed by tourism activities before the damage is beyond repair.”
Weeks later, another three Thai islands were made off limits to tourists: the idyllic Koh Khai islands — Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai — off the coast of Phuket.
Some 4000 tourists a day visited the islands before the closure, and speed boating and snorkelling were the biggest drawcards for tourists.
“Tour groups spend at least three hours swimming, feeding fish and snorkelling in the water, which severely damages the marine ecosystem, especially on coral reefs,” Department of Marine and Coastal Resources regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang said.
He said speedboats in particular — as many as 60 a day — were putting a strain on the marine environment.