People travel all over the world to see the most beautiful and famous landscapes and landmarks. Sadly, however, those places of beauty are being marred and destroyed by the very people traveling to see them.
After a Hollywood film put a tiny, remote island in Thailand on the map, people from around the world have flocked there to see the small stretch of paradise. As a result of tourists’ carelessness and disrespect for the fragile environment, the iconic landscape has almost been completely destroyed. Recently, Thai authorities have announced a drastic plan in order to try and save it.
Thailand is home to some of the most beautiful, picturesque beaches on the planet. One of those beaches is Maya Bay, on the island of Ko Phi Phi Le, which is in the Krabi Province of Thailand and is part of the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park.
An Inconvenient Trek
The island has two bays, Loh Samah and Maya Bay, which are sheltered by steep limestone hills. In order to get to the beach, which is just under 275 yards long, visitors have to travel by boat for day trips only because there are no hotels on the island and staying overnight is prohibited.
For a long time, the remote destination was too inconvenient for tourists to get to. However, that all changed when the picturesque island was used to film the movie ‘The Beach’ in 1999. The movie, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, was released in 2000.
A Tourist Hot-Spot
When viewers around the world saw the film, Maya Bay became a must-see spot for travelers. Despite how inconvenient it was to get there, people began flocking to the island in masses. Each year, the number of tourists trekking to the island has only continued to increase.
A Booming Tourism Industry
In recent years, about 5,000 tourists and about 200 boats travel from either Phuket or Krabi to the island each day to see Maya Bay. The increase in tourism was good for the local economy. Sadly, however, it’s had disastrous effects on the environment.
A Day In Paradise
While on the island, the thousands of tourists often spend their day laying out on the sand to tan, partying on boats, swimming, and snorkeling for hours at a time. While those activities seem fairly harmless, they’re actually incredibly damaging to the delicate ecosystem.
A Delicate Ecosystem
“Tour groups spend at least three hours swimming, feeding fish and snorkeling in the water, which severely damages the marine ecosystem, especially on coral reefs,” Marine and Coastal Resources Department regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang said via News.com.au.
A Dumping Ground
As if that wasn’t bad enough, careless and irresponsible tourists would often leave the beach worse off than they found it. At the end of their day trip, many tourists left the beach and the water littered with garbage. What was once a remote paradise had become a literal dumping ground.
Not Just Cosmetic
Not only did all the garbage and pollution make the beach less beautiful, but it started having catastrophic effects on the wildlife that had once flourished on the tropical island. “We have evaluated each month and found out that the ecological system was seriously destroyed from tourism of up to 5,000 people daily,” Songtam Suksawang, director of the National Parks Department, explained.
A High Traffic Area
By the end of 2018, experts have estimated that about 2.5 million people would visit the island. According to experts, there has been an increase of half a million visitors each year and the hundreds of boats that bring those tourists each day have also contributed to the pollution.
Poisoning The Reef
“We have significant information that all the boats that come in and out really impact the coral reef,” marine expert Thon Thamrongnawasawat was reported saying by the BBC. In addition to the outright pollution and contamination, experts also revealed that tourists were destroying the precious coral that surrounds the island by what they were putting on their skin.
While travelers were trying to protect their skin from sun damage, the sunscreen was actually poisoning the coral. According to environmentalists, certain ingredients, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, in chemical sunscreens actually cause coral bleaching.
An Alarming Amount of Destruction
“Some sunscreen chemicals, in certain situations, cause coral larvae to stop swimming, change shape, and ultimately die,” the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) announced in 2018. So far, more than 80 percent of all the coral reef that surrounds Maya Bay has been destroyed as a result of the various forms of pollution.
Pleading For Action
For years, environmentalists have been warning government officials. If the reef is going to be saved and if the wildlife that has nearly disappeared from the water and the land is going to return, something drastic needs to happen. For years, however, officials did nothing.
They feared that by limiting or stopping tourists from traveling to the island, they would lose out on all the money earned through tourism. Each year, the island generates about $12.5 million. “Measures have been made in some areas to limit the number of boats permitted to visit popular islands such as Koh Phi Phi, and the Similan and Surin Islands, and it is something that continues to be monitored,” Tourism Authority of Thailand said in a statement.
However, limiting the number of boats allowed to visit the island wasn’t enough. Thai authorities had no choice but to close Maya Bay to allow it to repair from the damage it’s sustained. The plan was to open the beach back up after four months and to allow just 2,000 people on the island each day.
Not Enough Time
However, by the end of the four months, it became apparent that the island and the coral would need much more time than that to repair. “Four months’ closure was not enough,” Suksawang told Reuters. “We need at least a year or even up to two years or maybe more for the environment to recover – this includes the coral reefs, mangrove, and the beach.”
“It’s very difficult to remedy and rehabilitate because its beach was completely destroyed as well the plants which cover it,” said Suksawang. In October 2018, the beach was scheduled to reopen. However, Thai authorities announced on October 1 that they have closed Maya Bay indefinitely.
A Well-Needed Time-Out
They claim they will keep the beach closed for at least a year or until the choral and environment are fully recovered. “It’s like someone who has been working for decades and has never stopped,” Dr. Thamrongnawasawat told AP. “Overworked and tired, all the beauty of the beach is gone.”
A Recovery Initiative
“We need a time-out for the beach,” Dr. Thamrongnawasawat added. Since coral only grows about half a centimeter each year, it will realistically take years for the reef to be fully recovered. To help speed the process along, more than 1,000 corals have been planted in the bay.