One of Thailand’s most famous beaches, which leapt to fame after starring in one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s most memorable movies, has been closed indefinitely to prevent further damage by droves of tourists.
Maya Bay, which is on Phi Phi Leh Island in the Andaman Sea, has been closed since June and now the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has announced that this ban on visitors will continue for the foreseeable future.
Authorities say that coral reefs and vegetation have been damaged by a heavy footfall – at times 5,000 visitors a day – and the environment needs more time to recover than originally thought.
‘Four months’ closure was not enough,’ Songtham Sukswang, the director of the Office of National Parks, told Reuters, adding: ‘We need at least a year or even up to two years or maybe more for the environment to recover – this include the coral reefs, mangrove, and the beach.’
According to the Bangkok Post, the decision to prolong the ban has angered tour operators, who are worried about their profits being hit.
Wattrapol Chanthararo, chairman of the Koh Phi Phi tourism business club, said that tourists who had booked on tours to visit the bay would be impacted, with their decision to go elsewhere having a knock-on effect on neighbouring areas.
He is set to call a meeting over the coming weeks to discuss how to navigate potential problems caused by the department’s latest announcement.
Maya Bay, part of an island in Krabi’s Mueang district, became globally famous after The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was shot there in 1999.
The move starred DiCaprio as a young American traveller seeking adventure in Thailand.
Maya Bay provided the backdrop to the box office smash hit and it prompted tourists to flock to Thailand to see the beach for themselves.
Earlier this year it was estimated that up to 5,000 tourists a day were taking boats from the nearby islands of Phuket and Krabi to soak up the sun on the stunning shoreline.
It’s not the first time Thai authorities have closed beaches in a bid to protect coral reefs.
In 2016, the country’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) issued a ban for the islands of Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Nai.
All tourist activity was banned around the coral reefs near the three islands, which are off the east coast of Phuket.
This included the removal of facilities and structures built for tourists, including beach chairs and parasols, as well as the closure of shops and restaurants on the islands.
Meanwhile, in February this year, Thailand’s environment ministry announced that it was banning smoking and litter-dropping at 24 beachside locations that are popular with tourists.
The beaches protected, by the law, span 15 provinces located along the Andaman coast and the Gulf of Thailand.
Anyone who violates the new law will be taken to a criminal court and could face up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $3,190 (£2,300) – or both.
Yoong Island, part of the Phi Phi island chain, and Tachai Island in the Similan Islands National Park, have been off-limits to tourists since mid-2016.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and member of a government committee on development and the environment, who surveyed both islands in spring, said he was amazed by the results.
Waters that were devoid of fish are now teeming, he said, and there is about 10,000 square meters (107,600 square feet) of newly recovered coral off one of the islands.
At Maya Bay, park rangers have been preparing a coral propagation program, attaching it to rocks that will be placed in the bay once the tourists are gone.
‘We’re almost certain that something good will happen in Maya Bay,’ Thon said.