Maya Bay, Phi Phi, Thailand credit Kent Wang on flickr
Maya Bay in the Phi Phi islands of Thailand became famous after the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach was released in 2000.
The paradise bay was then overwhelmed with tourists who battled for the best picture opportunities and boats that crammed the waters. Extensive damage was done to the beach itself and the coral in the bay was all but destroyed.
The small bay on Phi Phi Leh was attracting around 170 people a day in 2008. By 2017 that had increased to an average of 3,500, with up to 5,000 visiting on the busiest days.
A dramatic increase in pollution, damage to vegetation and litter was seen. Extensive damage was done the coral reef caused mostly be speedboats, their anchors and tourists touching and breaking the coral.
Marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat from Kasetsart University in Thailand says that at the time of its closure, there was only 8% coral coverage, compared to 17% 30 years ago.
A temporary ban on visitors was implemented in 2018 which was subsequently extended and continues today.
Dive teams have been planting 20,000 coral fragments to help rehabilitate the reef. Thon Thamrongnawasawat says that the reef is growing well and could return to its former glory in 5 to 10 years.
The lack of tourists and pollution has led to an increase in the marine wildlife spotted including black tip reef shark who have returned to the bay to breed.
Calls have been increasing locally for the bay to be reopened but many want the ban to continue to allow the bay to recover further.
Authorities however have resisted until infrastructure improvements have been completed and tourist numbers can be properly managed. Visitor numbers will be heavily restricted, especially at the start, will have a time limit to their stay and be required to stay on the new boardwalk.
Park rangers will have a new system to keep track of boats and visitors.
Boats will no longer be allowed into the bay and visitors will be brought to a new pier at Loh Samah on the opposite side of the island.
The issues at Maya Bay have been seen, although often less dramatically, elsewhere in Thailand which saw almost 40 million foreign arrivals in 2019. Those numbers were only expected to increase further until the pandemic arrived.
One thing that has been seen during the pandemic is an increased interest in responsible and sustainable tourism throughout the world.
Many business and tourism leaders have seen this as an opportunity to try and attract an increase in “quality” tourists rather than aiming for sheer numbers as has been the model in the past.
Encouraging tourist who stay longer and spend more and have an interest in giving back to the local community is essential in achieving sustainable tourism and reducing the damage to these incredibly beautiful areas throughout Thailand and the world.
Additional Information: DW.com