Maya Bay,Phi Phi Leh, Thailand, credit Mike Swigunski on Unsplash
Made famous throughout the world when the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach was released in 2000, Maya Bay has had a troubled history over the last few years.
Located on the Thai island of Phi Phi Leh, Maya Bay was chosen as the main location in the film but was not quite perfect enough for the film makers.
They undertook extensive landscaping, making changes to sand dunes and removing trees to increase the size of the beach. Digital effects were also made to create the overall effect.
Although attempts were made to return the beach to its original condition, a number of lawsuits were filed by environmentalists who believed the damage to the ecosystem was permanent and restoration attempts had failed.
On 26th December 2004, the Indian Ocean “Boxing Day” Tsunami struck much of the region. Although Phi Phi Le escaped the devastation seen elsewhere, including on neighbouring Phi Phi Don, extensive damage was caused as monster waves hit the island.
Damage From Tourism
It is estimated that there were 170 people visiting Maya Bay per day in 2008. By 2017 that had increased to 3,500 with reports of up to 5,000 per day on the busiest days.
Maya Bay became anything but a paradise with tourists battling for spots to take pictures and boats cramming the waters.
A dramatic increase in pollution, damage to vegetation and litter was seen. Extensive damage was done to the beach and to the coral reef caused mostly be speedboats, their anchors and tourists touching and breaking the coral.
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. 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.
No date has yet been set for the reopening of the bay. There have been calls from many local tourism organisations for this to be done immediately. Many had relied on the bay for business prior to its closure and have now been hit by the pandemic.
The National Resources and the Environment Ministry says that the bay will only re-open to visitors once an upgrade to facilities has been completed and an adequate system is in place to manage tourist numbers.
When it it does reopen visitor 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.
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.
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