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Maya Bay | Reopening January 2022

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  • Maya Bay | Reopening January 2022

    Thailand’s Maya Bay reopening January 2022
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    Remember that breathtakingly pretty beach on Koh Phi Phi Leh off Krabi? Now, the beach that featured in “The Beach” is now poised to reopen. The iconic natural cove of limestone karsts, turquoise waters and THAT beach was one of Thailand’s most popular attractions for a decade with up to 6,000 visitors everyday. But in the end even the local marine national park officials realised that tourists were killing Maya Bay with love. So they closed it. “The Beach” was a 2000 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio (and a great book) is now scheduled to reopen to tourists on January 01, 2022. This from Thailand’s Department of National Parks. The postcard attraction is sure to lure back some of the more reticent tourists who would be keen to see one of the world’s most favourite beaches, but without the mass tourism that closed it down in June 2018.​

    Since then the park has been devoid of tourists and allowed to rejuvenate, with a bit of help from officials and marine biologists at the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park. Replanting coral, revegetating the back of the beach and construction of some protective walkways, has taken most of the 3 year break. Koh Phi Phi Ley is one of two islands that make up the Koh Phi Phi group. Even though it’s officially part of the Krabi province, most visitors travel by speedboat from Phuket for numerous day trips. The larger Koh Phi Phi Don is somewhat of a sun and snorkel backpacker haven and as famous for its parties as it is for stunning scenery. But it’s Phi Phi Don’s smaller and more attractive sister that has attracted so many day trippers and Instagrammers.

    After the release of “The Beach” Maya Bay (the scene only occupies a few minutes of the film) became a Mecca for visitors seeking out THAT beach and the crowds kept coming. At its peak hundreds of tourists and long tail boats would be anchoring off the shores each day, delivering 5-6,000 tourists, trampling over the vegetation. The boat’s anchors almost completely destroyed the coral in the Bay. Covid, although it nothing to do with the closure of the Bay, just delayed the reopening, giving Maya Bay’s ecology an additional break before reopening.

    But, as with much of Thailand post-Covid, there are new restrictions that will make the visitor experience to Maya Bay very different from the past. Speedboats won’t even be able to enter into the actual bay anymore. A pier at the back of the island will now be the drop-off point where passengers will disembark and walk across protective boardwalks around the back of the beach. Visits will be capped at one hour with only 8 boats allowed to tie up at the pier at any one time. The trips will all take place between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm daily. At this stage the piers aren’t ready for boats and there’s now a mad dash to get everything completed before the reopening at the start of next year. Whilst the best intentions to limit tourist traffic have been laid down – less than 2,000 tourists a day – the local tourist industry will be pushing hard for Maya Bay to accept more visitors if the demand is there. There are still lots of spare boats and crews out of work in Phuket and Krabi and they’ll be pressuring authorities to relax the restrictions. History shows, in the case of Thai tourism, market forces usually prevail.

  • #2
    Thailand makes another travel list: Fodor’s No List

    Thailand boasted recently of its ranking on many travel lists, from being among the least corrupt countries in Asia to ranking one of the best locations for expats, and rating one of the safest countries to visit. The country has made the ranks by having some of the top-rated food and beaches in the world. But Thailand also received a nod this year that they might not be as quick to promote: Fodor’sNo List for 2023.

    The popular travel company puts out a list each year of countries, cities, and locations that people should reconsider travelling to for various reasons. The company considers tourism’s damage to a place’s culture and the environment, or a country’s record on human rights or corruption.
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    This year the list focused on areas that were affected by overcrowding by tourism that depletes resources, locations damaged by water crises, and areas of natural wonder that need time to heal from constant tourism. Fodor’s Travel observed while compiling this year’s list that 2022 saw 29 disasters causing more than a billion dollars of damage that were climate-related. And while tourism can bring much-needed revenue to an area, it can also significantly affect climate change.

    In Thailand’s case, the effects of overcrowding by tourists to many popular natural attractions earned it a spot on the No List. Fodor’s list pointed to locations like Maya Bay which had become so popular after shooting to global fame, when featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, that the impact on the environment was catastrophic. Up to 3,000 tourists per day arrived on boats and crowded the beaches.

    The government stepped in and closed the whole bay in 2018 to allow nature to recover from the damage inflicted by humans. After three and a half years it reopened with plans to limit the number of tourists to 380 per hour. But after the Songkran holiday flooded the beaches once again, Maya Bay was closed throughout August and September to allow more recovery time.

    In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was so heartened by the tangible recovery to the environment in Thailand’s 155 national parks when the tourists were gone during the Covid-19 pandemic, they instituted a rule that every park must close for at least one month each year to allow some natural rehabilitation.

    The famous scuba diving island of Koh Tao also took action to try to counteract the harm done by tourist-driven overcrowding. A tourist fee was instituted to fund conservation efforts for the marine environment and biodiversity. Working with the Biodiversity Finance Initiative, a project of the United Nations Development Programme, Koh Tao’s mayor stated plainly the need for urgent action.

    “If we don’t take care of our home and let it be ruined, who will want to visit us?”


    • #3
      Phi Phi islands' drive to balance tourism, environmental conservation

      As sightseeing boats headed into the turquoise waters of Maya Bay, a floating buoy rope kept them a few hundred meters away from the glistening beach, leaving tourists to appreciate the beauty from afar before the boats turned back and departed. These boats then need to navigate around to the back of the bay, where a floating pier has been built for brief stops. From there, tourists disembark and walk along a wooden pathway through the jungle to the white sand beach, a place made famous after featuring in a 2000 film "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

      This has now become a common pattern for visitors coming to Phi Phi islands' famous scenic spot on the Andaman Sea coast. It's hard to imagine that five years ago, the beach was inundated with thousands of speedboats and tourists daily, leaving in their wake a trail of devastation on the coral reef and marine ecosystem, compelling authorities to make the difficult decision to close Maya Bay in mid-2018. Then, the unexpected arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic also provided this place with a breather and allowed for the restoration of its marine environment.
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      "It is one of the most successful marine actions in many years not only for Thailand but for the whole world," Thon Thamrongnawasawat, deputy dean of the Faculty of Fisheries at Kasetsart University, told Xinhua in a phone interview. According to the marine biologist, under official management, the number of people entering Maya Bay beach has been reduced from around 7,000 per round to just 375, with strict limitations on their activities and length of stay on the island.

      Tourists are only permitted into shallow waters and stand in a spot where the sea level is below their knees. Thon specifically emphasized this detail as a means of avoiding any disturbance to the coral's delicate ecosystem. This regulated form of tourism has resulted in the rapid restoration of the marine environment in Maya Bay. Thon mentioned that he had observed over 100 black-tip reef sharks swimming in the shallow waters of the bay.

      The current achievement should give credit to the private sector, which has also played an important role in repairing the island's ecosystem, Thon said, giving an example of the Marine Discovery Center, the first institution of its kind in Thailand. Established in 2018, this center is located within a luxury resort on Phi Phi Don island, serving as a comprehensive institution for education and marine life cultivation. According to Kullawit Limchularat, sustainability development senior specialist at Singha Estate, the developer of the resort, the center operates multiple projects such as breeding clownfish and bamboo sharks, in collaboration with government agencies and national parks.

      As of now, approximately 50 clownfish and 25 bamboo sharks have been released back into their natural habitats, including the four sharks that were recently returned to the sea, Kullawit told Xinhua. In addition, the center is open to the local community and schools, organizing activities for visitors to participate in beach cleanups and mangrove replanting. Since its opening, the center has seen close to 17,000 visitors and has effectively raised awareness among many people, Kullawit said. As tourism begins to pick up in the Phi Phi islands after the pandemic-induced lull, hotel operators are expecting an influx of tourists later this year.

      Saii Resorts cluster general manager Bart Callens has expressed support for the authorities' efforts to manage visitors in sensitive areas like Maya Bay. He believes that government and local businesses can work together to make the environment better for everyone. Thon is also optimistic about the current situation. He said that the most challenging part of building a system to balance tourism and ecology is behind them and that the focus now should be on ensuring that the system works effectively in the long term.


      • #4
        Managing blacktip reef sharks in Maya Bay, Thailand

        The National Parks Department of Thailand aims to enhance the management of the country’s popular tourist conservation areas following the return of blacktip reef sharks to Maya Bay. Maya Bay was closed for four years, from 2018 to 2022, to facilitate the recovery of the island’s wildlife. The bay’s popularity surged after the release of the 2000 movie The Beach, featuring Leonardo Di Caprio, which attracted a large number of visitors to the picturesque location, inadvertently damaging much of the island’s marine life. The closure of Maya Bay helped improve conservation efforts, but there is a risk of it being destroyed once again. According to Reuters, up to 40 blacktip reef sharks swim in the turquoise shallows while approximately 4,000 tourists visit the white-sand beach surrounded by towering cliffs every day.
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        The number of sharks has increased since the influx of tour boats and tourists caused almost every last one to leave the bay. Limited tourism resumed in 2022, but conservationists warn that shark numbers are declining once again, making it difficult for Maya Bay to strike a balance between preserving a pristine ecosystem and sustaining the livelihoods of those who depend on tourism. Petch Manopawitr, a marine advisor to Thailand’s National Parks Department, said…

        “We don’t talk about closing down everywhere or reducing the tourism numbers, but I think we are talking about managing it wisely.”
        But with the number of sharks already dwindling, authorities and conservationists are intent on keeping tourists from swimming in the bay and driving away the baby sharks, which hide in the shallows and coral reefs from cannibalistic adults. Marine researcher Metavee Chuangcharoendee stated that the island has become a nursery for young sharks once again, thanks to the hiatus in tourism. Metavee and other researchers at the Maya Shark Watch Project use underwater cameras and drones to observe the behaviour, feeding areas, and breeding patterns of sharks.

        Between November 2021, when they launched a pilot study, and the end of 2022, they observed a decline in shark numbers as tourists began to return. Blacktip reef sharks, named after the black colouration on their dorsal fins and tails, roam the Andaman Sea and other tropical areas but their numbers are decreasing due to overfishing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are several factors that impact the sharks around Phi Phi Leh Island, including seasonal movement patterns and human activities like fishing.

        Metavee mentioned that with the shark population already declining, authorities and conservationists must prevent tourists from swimming in the bay and disturbing the baby sharks that seek refuge in the shallows and coral reefs away from the predatory adults.

        “We are hoping that with the restrictions in place, we can mitigate the disturbance to (the sharks). We are doing this research in hopes that we can find the best way to manage and the best way for tourism and the environment to coexist.”