Popular Thai beach paradise closed

By: AP June 01,2018 - 11:52 PM

Tourists walk the beach of Maya Bay, Phi Phi leh island in Krabi province, Thailand on Thursday (May 31), a day before it was closed to tourists. / AP PHOTO

MAYA BAY, Thailand — Once a pristine Thai paradise, the secluded bay made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” has been exhausted by mass tourism.

Now it’s getting a break.

After Friday, the daily influx of dozens of boats and thousands of visitors unsuccessfully scrambling for an unspoiled view of Maya Bay’s emerald waters and glistening white sand will end.

The attraction is being closed for four months to give its coral reefs and sea life a chance to recover.

Thailand has promoted unfettered tourism for decades and the onslaught on Maya Bay, which is on Phi Phi Leh Island in the Andaman Sea, has only picked up pace in recent years.

Authorities now say they are striving to balance profit and conservation and the closure will happen every year.

It is part of a rethink happening globally about unrestricted tourism that brings in big dollars but damages historic sites, harms the environment and often alienates locals.

Last month, the Philippines began a six-month closure of popular Boracay Island, whose waters President Rodrigo Duterte described as a “cesspool.”

Venice, the famed Italian lagoon city that lives off tourism, installed gates at two access bridges during a four-day holiday in April so it could turn back visitors if numbers became overwhelming.

Many of Thailand’s marine national parks are closed from mid-May to mid-October during the monsoon season but because of Maya Bay’s popularity, it hasn’t had a break since a Hollywood crew set foot on its sands in 1999 to film the dark backpacker tale based on a novel by Alex Garland.

Its corals have been decimated by the suffocating clouds of sand and sediment churned up by speedboats.

“I tried to push this campaign for many, many years, but you know in Thailand we are a tourism industry country and we need a lot of money, so before not so many people listened,” said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and member of a government committee on development and the environment.

“It should have been done 10 years ago but at least it has been done,” he said.

Thailand had about 35 million international visitors last year, a five-fold increase in little more than two decades.

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