Tourists enjoy the popular Maya bay on Phi Phi island, Krabi province, March 4, 2017. Authorities ordered the temporary closing of the beach to halt environmental damage caused by too many tourists. VOA.

Thailand Government Says, Shut of Iconic Beach a Lesson on Taming ‘Instagram Tourism’

The Philippines recently closed off Boracay Island for six months and imposed strict new limits on how many people could visit and what they could and could not do.

Thai officials and ecologists hope a recent decision to keep the country’s most iconic beach closed for another two years will prove a cautionary tale and example for other sites in the region grappling with the environmental fallout of mass tourism.

I think that we’re going to see more and more of it, not just around Southeast Asia, but around the world. I think that it will definitely become a trend,” said Mark Erdmann, vice president of Asia Pacific marine programs for Conservation International.

Extended closure

Thailand’s National Parks Department announced the extended closure earlier this month in a move to give the ravaged coral reefs of Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh island, just off the country’s west coast, more time to recover. The department closed the beach nearly a year ago and has been busy replanting the reefs since. The added time will also give authorities the chance to work out the details of a plan to preserve the picture-postcard bay for posterity. For the band of rakish drifters in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, little-known Maya Bay was their Shangri-La, a secluded strip of snow-white sand and tepid turquoise waters hemmed in by a towering ring of verdant limestone cliffs, a pristine paradise all their own.

But just as for the movie’s misfits, it would not last long. The bay’s star turn put it squarely on the tourist map. Dozens of daily visitors soon became hundreds, and hundreds became thousands. By the time the government closed it off, about 5,000 people were visiting the tiny cove each day, more than twice what researchers said it could handle. With the explosion in visitor numbers came a financial bonanza for both the government and local tour operators running day-trips to the uninhabited island by boat. Parks Department Director Songtam Suksawang said the marine park encompassing Phi Phi Leh was pulling in nearly a quarter of the annual 2.5 billion baht ($78.66 million) being generated by all of Thailand’s 154 national parks. But the bay’s blessing was also its curse.

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