Remember “The Beach” a film from 2000 that featured a freshly scrubbed Leonardo DiCaprio frolicking on an idyllic beach in Thailand. The location was spectacular Maya Bay on the tiny island of Koh Phi Phi Leh. (photo – 20th Century Fox)
The attention the film received enabled Thai tourism officials to entice more visitors to enjoy their country’s natural beauty.
Try Visiting Maya Bay Today!
The boats line up, the tourists, slathered in suntan lotion (non-biodegradable) pile out, splash around, get sandy and pile back in. As one Thai tour guide says in-between drags on her cigarette, “the problem with people is that they are too greedy. They see a beautiful place and they want it. They take, take, take from nature. And then they destroy it.” She has no comment about the greedy tour guides that funnel 5000 tourists a day to Maya Bay. See the Guardian.
Update: Thailand’s most famous Beach is now closed indefinitely!
Thailand’s Department of National Parks, just announced that so much damage has been done to iconic Maya Bay that it will remain closed indefinitely. “The ecosystem and the beach’s physical structure have [not] yet returned to its full condition,” said DNP director-general Thanya Nethithammaku. The bay’s beautiful beaches and spectacular cliffs drew as many as 5,000 day trippers arriving on 200 boats daily. and this all occurring in a very small area. It is estimated that pollution from boats, sunscreen and litter have destroyed 80 percent of the coral around the bay. See the full story in EcoWatch.
Paradises – Trashed by Tourists!
Very few “untouched paradises” remain in south-east Asia. An area that is home to the famous coral-triangle, that offers the world’s greatest biodiversity of marine life. But mass tourism has arrived with tour boats dropping anchors, tourists discarding plastic water bottles and snorkeler’s fins flapping uncontrollably while park police blow whistles. The pristine reefs are broken, 80% of the coral surrounding Maya Bay has been destroyed.
“Frenetic, makeshift and ad-hoc development driven only by profit” is a curse for these pristine beaches said Dr Loke Ming Chou, a tropical marine scientist at the University of Singapore. “After so many lessons of overwhelmed beach locations, the rush to make money still ignores the environment, which is what attracts tourists in the first place. This is not sustainable and such places will collapse when tourists stay away to avoid swimming in their own muck.”
Enough is Enough,
Thailand is not alone, the Philippines closed Boracay Island, (now reopened on a very limited basis) a popular international, beach destination with 2 million tourists each year, because of inadequate sewage treatment. President Rodrigo Duterte in his inimical style called Boracay a “cesspool” and then added “You go into the water, it’s smelly…of what? Shit.” Probably not something you want on a travel poster, but probably fairly accurate. In 2010 the New York Times described Boracay as Asia’s next tourism hot spot. The government saw an opportunity to make money, but not a necessity to plan infrastructure.
Drainage pipe on Bolabog Beach.
Finally Getting Attention
In response to both a public health crisis and a tourism “overload” crisis the governments of both Thailand and the Philippines have declared Maya Bay and Boracay closed for up to six months to allow for the environments to recover.
Is there hope for the island? “Boracay will never be the same again,” scoffed Jojo Rodriguez a local resident and diver. “The president said close down Boracay, but it’s not going to be solved in six months. For the island to heal itself? Maybe 60 years if we are lucky.”
A tourism ban might help, but it is going to take more than pronouncements from the government to solve these problems. Real considerations of developing an infrastructure to handle waste management and disposal are needed, something more than simply dumping into the sea is needed and needed badly.
What happened in Boracay and Maya Bay, occurred in Phuket before that and in numerous beautiful places around the world that became the “next tourism hot spot” and grew too quickly for infrastructure to keep up. See our series on: Can Mass Tourism be Sustainable: the Riviera Maya where we dive deeply into all of the implications of mass tourism, from pollution; to biodiversity loss; to corruption.
by Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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