Maya Bay in Thailand, a strong contender for the world’s most celebrated beach, will be closed to tourists for at least three months this year in a bid to reverse damage caused to the surrounding coral reef.
The idyllic cove that starred in The Beach, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel about the search for untouched backpacker paradise, has long been the victim of its own fame. The film encouraged waves of tourists to visit the once little-known Phi Phi Islands, where Maya Bay is located, and the sheltered strip of sand is now a far cry from the unspoiled utopia depicted on the big screen.
As many as 5,000 people arrive each day on boat trips from the bustling mainland resorts of Krabi and Phuket, but fears about damage to the local reefs are finally spurring local authorities into action and tourists will be prevented from visiting for three months during the summer low season to let the corals recover.
The tactic has been used on other Thai beaches but this will be the first time that Maya Bay is closed to travellers.
Lee Cobaj, Telegraph Travel’s expert in Bangkok, welcomed the move.
“Parts of the Similans and Surin islands have been closed in the past to let the corals recover, but this is a first for Maya Bay,” she said. “The closure, from June to September, will be in the middle of low season, when rain is pretty persistent, so I can’t imagine too many tourists will be turned away. But the beach is stupidly busy in high season so it’s good to see Thailand putting nature ahead of profits for once.”
Some have called for stricter measures, however, such as a daily cap on visitor numbers – and even the permanent closure of the bay to sightseeing boats.
“Temporary closures can help to a certain extent. But an ideal solution is a permanent closure, which is not possible due to our reliance on tourism revenue,” said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine ecologist at Kasetsart University in Bangkok.
According to research, 72 per cent of Thailand’s coral reef has been devastated, up from just 30 per cent a decade ago, with polluted water from seaside hotels, the dumping of plastic waste and damage from boat anchors all to blame.
Few countries have experienced a bigger tourism boom over the past two decades than Thailand and the industry now accounts for more than 20 per cent of GDP. Around 7.8m international travellers visited the country in 1998 – fast forward to last year and that figure had shot up to almost 35m.