The Beach is closed

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Maya Bay beach was closed for a period of four months in 2018, but is now closed indefinitely.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 film The Beach made Maya Bay in Thailand famous – but it is now closing indefinitely.

Authorities in Thailand have said that its ecosystem needs even more time to recover after it was damaged by huge amounts of tourists visiting.

The beach on Phi-Phi Leh island was shut for four months on June 1 2018 to salvage the area’s coral reefs, which have taken a battering from warmer water temperatures as well as visitors dropping rubbish. Up to 5,000 visitors had gone to the beach every day, travelling by speedboat from the resort island of Phi-Phi Don, Phuket and Krabi on the mainland.

Around 5,000 tourists a day visit Maya Bay on boats from the tourism hubs of Phuket and Krabi

Songtham Sukswang, the director of the Office of National Parks, told Reuters: “Four months’ closure was not enough. “We need at least a year or even up to two years or maybe even more for the environment to recover – this include the coral reefs, mangrove, and the beach.”

Tourism makes up about 12 per cent of Thailand’s economy, but there has been growing concern about the country’s ability to manage its rapidly growing number of visitors.

Shocking photos show the decline of Maya Bay after it was first announced that the beach was to shut. Photos from the bay show the sheer amount of rubbish that was left behind by tourists – much that littered the once-beautiful bay itself. Except for rubbish there was also the problem of boat oil, tourists feeding fish and trampling corals on their resort course ‘try dives’.

A shot under the water at Koh Phi-Phi shows the shocking amount of plastic which is floating on the surface

Plastic left behind on the beach is seen floating in the sea at Koh Phi Phi

The effects of plastic on the oceans is also evident at Koh Phi-Phi. The topic was recently highlighted by David Attenborough in Blue Planet II. While locals have been making huge efforts to clear up Maya Bay, it’s clear that it is now too late for the beach which was made popular in the Leonardo DiCaprio film.

Recent research by a team of marine biologists found a large part of the coral reefs around the area is gone and sea life has virtually disappeared. Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a prominent marine scientist and member of Thailand’s national strategy committee on environment development told AP: “It’s like someone who has been working for decades and has never stopped.

“Overworked and tired, all the beauty of the beach is gone. We need a time-out for the beach.”

A shot under the water at Koh Phi Phi shows the shocking amount of plastic which is floating on the surface

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. 77 percent of coral reefs in Thailand’s waters have been devastated by destruction linked to tourism, according to Dr Thamrongnawasawat. That figure is up 30 per cent from a decade ago.

Dr Thamrongnawasawat said much of the coral damage has been caused by beachfront hotels, plastic rubbish that had been dumped at sea and boat anchors. He also warned that temporary closures could only do so much to repair the damage.

He added: “An ideal solution is a permanent closure.”

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. He told the Bangkok Post: “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 continued: “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.

Around 4,000 tourists a day visited the islands before the closure, and speed boating and snorkelling were among the biggest attractions for tourists.

The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang said at the time: “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.” He said speedboats in particular — as many as 60 a day — were putting a strain on the marine environment.

Earlier in 2018 Thailand also banned smoking and littering at 24 beaches that tourists often visit. With tourists leaving cigarette butts and litter behind, it’s become a concern for the government as well as environmental health groups.

The good news

Video footage posted by the Thai government shows a large number of blacktip reef sharks have returned to Maya bay. Authorities in Thailand confirmed in October 2018 that the bay would be permanently closed to the public. Marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat confirmed that the waters around the bay had improved.

He said: “There are only a few bays in Thailand suitable for blacktip reef sharks but the humans took the bay away from the sharks.“When we handed the bay back, dozens of sharks returned. This is a clear signal. These sharks are very important to the eco system. It’s a predator that helps control the amount of fish on coral reefs.