by Chloe Livadeas and Nicola Smith, The Telegraph, April 2, 2018
Before it hit the Hollywood big screen, the secluded white sands and crystal blue waters of Thailand’s Maya Bay were feted as a magical, unspoiled getaway for weary travellers to relax and rejuvenate.
But the silent beauty of the once pristine bay on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh in the Andaman Sea ended when it featured in the 1999 Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach.
Now groaning under the burden of an incessant average flow of 200 boats and 4,000 pleasure-seekers a day, Maya Bay will be closed to the public for four months from June, to allow its battered coral reefs and sea life to recover.
It is one of a growing number of the globe’s most stunning beaches that face temporary closure this summer as their ecosystems struggle to cope with the devastating impact of unfettered tourism.
The Philippine resort of Boracay, frequently celebrated among the most breathtaking islands in the world, may be shut down for six months from April after the country’s outspoken President, Rodrigo Duterte, called it a “cesspool” because of sewage dumped directly in the sea.
Railing against the “s--- coming out of the pipes” Mr Duterte declared a “state of calamity” last month. The nearby paradise island of Calaguas has watched Boracay’s decline with alarm, vowing this week to clean up its own act and regulate development.
Tour operators in Boracay have warned that more than 36,000 jobs would be threatened by the proposed temporary shutdown to reconstruct the sewage system and clear out illegal structures lining the three mile white sand beach.
Tourists would also be heavily impacted by the closure. Arrivals, largely from other Asian destinations, have spiked from roughly 630,000 in 2008 to about 2 million in 2017.
This week South Korean budget airliner, Air Seoul, said it would suspend flights to Boracay from the end of April.
Meanwhile, an influx of up to 58,000 tourists arriving for Easter weekend may be disappointed if they expect to party. Loud music has been banned to help contain environmental damage.
Environmentalists have welcomed efforts to try to salvage the famous natural beauty spots to protect wildlife, coral reefs and local economies.
Southeast Asia is expected to bear the brunt of rising damage to coral reefs, depriving fishing communities of incomes, and leaving nations exposed to incoming storms.
“Reef environments are very fragile, and mass tourism can wreck them,” said Jean-Luc Solandt, a specialist in sea ecology at the Marine Conservation Society.
"Hopefully the sites can be made accessible again in future, but this will require careful management, restricting numbers of visitors and what they can do, where they can go,” he added.
British tour operators are also resigned to the reality that a long-term environmental fix is necessary for tourists to be able to return one day to currently heaving resorts.
Dorothy Heng, director of Eastravel said the company had been warning customers for some time about the damage inflicted on Maya Bay after it was catapulted to fame in The Beach.
“We have taken care to advise those who wish to include the experience on their itinerary of the overcrowding and damage to the environment that this new fame has caused,” she said. “We hope that closing Maya Bay for three months will allow nature to recover.”
Rachel Gleaves, Asia project manager at Turquoise Holiday, said the company also tried to “steer people away and towards more unspoiled islands off the beaten track.”
She added: “It’s a shame it [closure] has to happen, but we understand why.”
Audley Travel’s Southeast Asia product manager, James Pook, said the firm supported the Thai and Philippine authorities’ decisions on temporary closures.
“We believe this is a necessary step to ensure that both places can continue to be enjoyed by visitors for many years to come,” he said.
This article was written by Chloe Livadeas and Nicola Smith from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].