Cape Town - Thailand's hottest beach spot, Maya Bay - on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, will be closing down from June to September of this year for the sake of ecological reparation.
The site, famously known for its starring role in Danny Boyle’s film based on Alex Garland’s bestselling novel The Beach, is closing to offer the marine environment the chance to recover from years of frequent tourism and damage.
The closure occurs during the island's low season period, in order to allow the coral reef time to recover without facing too harsh a dip in their tourism revenue.
The beach sees about 5,000 visitors a day, with most tourists travelling by boat from Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. Much of that tourism has been brought on by the popularity of the film The Beach, which was released in 2000 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie, ironically, tells the tale of a backpacker on a mission to find the perfect, untouched beach.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, the deputy dean of the faculty of fisheries at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, says that almost 80% of Thailand’s coral reefs have been damaged or destroyed. The primary causes, he finds, being beachfront hotels, boat anchors and plastic waste being dumped into the sea.
When asked about solutions, Thamrongnawasawat suggests that the ideal solution would be to permanently close the bay. He fervently believes and has always been outspoken about the need to protect Thailand's marine parks and the risks that tourism pose.
Thamrongnawasawat is not the only local to believe this, Sam Clark of Experience Travel says the tour operator stopped suggesting its guests go on boat trips to Maya Bay 'long ago'.
"While it's a very pretty bay and recognisable 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."
While tourism plays a pivotal role in Thailand's revenue, it begs the question of what cost it comes at. Tourists themselves have complained about the overcrowding and litter found at Maya Bay. The three month closure, Luke Finch - who had visited the beach last Christmas - suggests, is not long enough for a full and thorough reparation. He believes that the numbers of accessibility need to be heavily limited to ensure the maintainance and care of the bay.
So, if you were planning to swing by the famous Maya Bay between June and September, count your cards unlucky due to the closure. However, the closure does raise important questions regarding tourism and its effects on the environment. It is important to always try to live consciously no matter where you venture and be environmentally sensitive at all times.
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