Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on May 31, 2018
Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh has been a tourist magnet for years. But it has become a little too popular. So much so that authorities are closing it for four months to give its fragile eco system a chance to recover.
In the South of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea, are the Phi Phi Islands, famous for the crystal clear water that surrounds them and their sandy white beaches.
It’s one of the reasons this boatman, who goes by the nickname "Chang" came here to work.
"CHANG"; Longtail Boat Captain:
"I’m here on my 7th year. I do everything here because I love the Phi Phi islands - to work somewhere that has such beautiful views and such."
The thousands of tourists that flock here day in, day out - feel the same.
Most people are drawn to this place in particular: Maya Bay, a small strip of beach on the smaller island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.
But over the years, it has become a little too popular.
SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT; KOH PHI PHI LEH, KRABI PROVINCE:
"Maya Bay became very popular after the release of the Hollywood movie 'The Beach' in 2000, showing this place here as a very untouched place of paradise. Ironically, the film crew did some extensive reconstruction and environmentalists say it still hasn’t fully recovered. Nevertheless, countless numbers of visitors come here on a daily basis - so much so that authorities are saying this place needs a break."
The authorities mean business. Starting June, they're closing off Maya Bay - all the way to September - to give nature a chance to breathe and recover.
About 4,000 visitors come here every day. But experts say it’s not the crowds of tourists that are hurting the environment. It's the boats carrying them.
DR. THON THAMRONGNAWASAWAT; Marine Biologist, Kasetsart University:
"So, those speed boats and long-tail boats cross the shallow water reef. It makes the sediments - sand, sandy bottoms - go up and then drop down on the coral. Coral is an animal. They cannot breathe if you have any sand on top. So, if there’s a heavy sediment load in Maya Bay, it’s a main factor that kills a lot of corals for many, many years."
These fragile ecosystems used to serve as living spaces for more than 250 species of fish and thousands of other living organisms.
It's now just a tenth of what is used to be. The four-month closure is just one measure to help Maya Bay recover.
When it reopens in October - the beginning of the peak tourist season - there will be restrictions. The number of visitors will be halved and boats won't be allowed to dock inside the bay any longer.
In the meantime, officials will try to repopulate the coral reefs with samplings from nearby nurseries, but Mother Nature still has to do the heavy lifting.
This year's closure should give the bay a fighting chance... but authorities aren't ruling out the possibility of more closures in the future.
SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT, Channel NewsAsia, Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh, Krabi Province