It is one of the world’s most famous beaches, thanks to its starring role in Danny Boyle’s film of Alex Garland’s bestselling novel, and is often referred to simply as “the beach”. However, this summer Maya Bay, on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, will be closed to tourists as authorities attempt to reverse decades of damage done to the region’s marine environment.
The closure will take place from June to September, during the island’s low season, in order to give its coral reef time to recover.
Maya Bay gets up to 5,000 visitors a day, with most tourists travelling by boat from Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. Much of that tourism has been spurred by the film The Beach, released in 2000 and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a movie that, ironically, tells the story of a backpacker on a quest to find the perfect, untouched beach.
Almost 80% of Thailand’s coral reefs have been destroyed, according to Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy Dean of the faculty of fisheries at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, with the primary causes being beachfront hotels, boat anchors and plastic waste being dumped in the sea
Speaking to Deutsche Welle Newspaper, Thamrongnawasawat said that while temporary closures can help to an extent, the “ideal solution” would be for the bay to be closed permanently. Thon has long been outspoken about the need to protect Thailand’s marine parks and has warned about the risk from tourism. During a visit to the bay in 2016, he described the beach as being so densely crowded he was left speechless.
Luckily, the closure at this time will just be temporary despite Thon’s outspoken attempts to close it to tourists.