Sakuchai Lalit

Thailand: Saving a beach paradise from mass tourism

Thai authorities want to cap the number of tourists at Maya Bay to rescue its stressed marine ecosystem. The iconic cove from "The Beach" had to be sealed off to the public after almost all its coral was destroyed.

It's easy to see why Maya Bay has captured the imaginations of travelers.

Surrounded by towering limestone cliffs on an uninhabited island in Thailand's Phi Phi archipelago, the secluded cove with its white sand and turquoise water is the very picture of paradise.

"It's such a beautiful place. It's the closest you could get, if you were to envisage a bay closed off to everywhere in the world," said Andrew Hewett, who owns a dive center on the bigger neighboring island of Phi Phi Don.

Maya Bay is just one of dozens of idyllic beaches in Thailand. But it has become world-famous as the place where the 2000 film "The Beach," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was shot.

Tourists flocked to the bay after the film's release — at the cost of the marine environment. At the height of its popularity, there were more than 5,000 people visiting a day. In mid-2018, the overcrowding got so bad that authorities shut the beach.

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