One of the world’s most popular and beautiful beaches, made famous by Danny Boyle’s movie “The Beach” in the year 2000 has been closed since June 2018. Leonardo DiCaprio made Maya Bay more popular than ever which brought some 5.000 visitors to the bay each day. “The Beach” might have become a blessing for Thai tourism, but also a curse for nature which has been continuously damaged by the unsustainable mass tourism during the last 19 years.
Maya Bay was meant to be closed from June 2018 to October 2018. But the four-month rejuvenation program was not enough for the complete recovery of nature in Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park. Thailand’s most-visited tourist destination is to remain closed until 2021. The marine ecosystem requires more time in order to recover from the damage caused by millions of tourists, the pollution from litter, boats and sun cream.
Unfortunately, more than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay has been destroyed, as well the plants which cover it. It is impossible for recovery to occur in the allotted time of 4 months. May bay remain closed until its natural resources return to normal. Corals only grow about half a centimetre a year, so it could take several years for the coral reef to be fully restored.
Can a tourist ban save the tropical paradise from destruction?
The coral reef of Maya Bay has been damaged by warmer temperatures and a flood of tourists, travelling by speedboat from the nearby resort islands of Phi Phi, Phuket and Krabi. The statistics of Maya bay are kind of terrifying: 5,000 tourists and 200 boats a day which is 2.5 million visitors in 2018 (half a million more tourists compared to 2017). Many of the million visitors are just daytrippers from Phuket, which come here only to take some photos for Instagram which is everything but not sustainable tourism.
The severe environmental strain wasn’t something new for all Thai authorities, but Maya Bay generates about 400 million Baht in revenue each year. Tourism makes up about 12 % of Thailand’s economy. Or translated: nature must wait until it is completely destructed in order for something the be changed. While mass tourism generates millions for local businesses, natural resources suffer in the process.
But Maya Bay is not the first beach in the region to be closed – the Philippines and Indonesia share the same experience caused by excessive tourism. The president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte decided to close Boracay (6,400 visitors per day!) for six months during the same year. The authorities in Bali are still doing … nothing (despite the massive coastal pollution during the last couple of years).
Maya Bay is still closed which allows nature to recover. Maya Bay has 5,615 colonies of new corals and planting another thousand will keep expanding the project. After the boats were gone, numerous blacktip reef sharks have returned within just a few months as Maya Bay is a very important place in the region where sharks give birth. The marine scientist mentioned that Maya Bay has the highest shark population density in the Thai sea during the last months of 2020. Isn’t that amazing?!
At the same time, the numbers for tour operators have dropped considerably in 2020 due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Tourism and nature must go hand in hand. Maya bay stays closed indefinitely as it is necessary for nature to recover itself. There should be some efforts in Thailand to change toward ecotourism and the way tourists interact with nature. But this is impossible when locals and local businesses still lack environmental awareness.
In April 2021 Maya Bay is still closed for tourists but it may open soon. Anyway – boats will no longer be allowed to enter the front of Maya Bay. Visitors will have to access the beach from Loh Samah Bay and walk through Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park. Thailand is planning to build a new Pier on Phi Phi Lee for dropping off and picking up visitors.
Enjoy the day!
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