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Thailand Closes Famous Maya Bay Indefinitely to Save Coral Reef From Tourists

Maya Bay, a small beach on Thailand's Phi Phi Leh Island, has been a popular tourist destination since it appeared in the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Early this year, Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) ordered that Maya Bay be closed to tourists for four months from June to September so that the surrounding marine life could regenerate. In late September, however, Thai authorities announced that the bay will be closed indefinitely until the local ecosystem is fully rehabilitated, The Guardian reports.

"The ecosystem and the beach's physical structure have yet returned to its full condition," wrote the DNP's announcement in Thai. As the result of excessive tourism, 80% of the coral reef near the bay was destroyed.

“We have evaluated each month and found out that the ecological system was seriously destroyed from tourism of up to 5,000 people daily. It’s very difficult to remedy and rehabilitate because its beach was completely destroyed as well the plants which cover it," said Director of National Parks Department Songtam Suksawang.

The department is currently planning to build a boardwalk and a floating pier at the back of the island so that the coral reef will be left untouched. It's also working with local universities to determine a restriction on the number of tourists allowed to enter the bay. The closure, however, received pushback from several tourism stakeholders. 

“Instead of closing Maya Bay all year round, we want the authority to consider allowing tourists to the bay during the peak season and close it in April,” said Rong Phukaoluan, president of Krabi Hotel Association. The islands are officially under Krabi Province's administration.

In response to the pushback, Assistant Professor Datchanee Emphandhu of the Forestry Faculty of Kasetsart University stresses that reopening the place could collapse its ecosystem. "The damage could be irreversible," she adds.

[Photo via Creative Commons]

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