The forgotten paradise of Maya Bay: Does tourism enhance beauty or slowly eradicate it?

Written by: Sitinur (2SB4)

Have you ever heard of Maya Bay? It is a beautiful bay located on the small island of Koh Phi Phi Leh in Thailand’s Andaman Sea. Surrounded by towering limestone cliffs covered in lush green vegetation, the bay features crystal clear turquoise waters and a stretch of soft white sand. 

The water in the bay is shallow and calm, making it perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking. In addition to the natural beauty of the bay, Maya Bay is home to a wide array of marine life, including colourful fish, sea turtles, and coral reefs. The bay’s natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere makes it a perfect travel destination. However, I must pop your bubble before you plan your next vacation there as this pristine paradise is no longer available to us and we only have ourselves to blame.

Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi Leh Island, Andaman Sea, Thailand. Image: CNN Travel

The bay became famous after it was featured in the 2000 movie ‘The Beach’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie’s success put Maya Bay on the map and attracted a massive influx of tourists to the area. The increased tourism had a significant impact on the bay’s delicate ecosystem. The large number of visitors led to pollution, damage to coral reefs, and depletion of marine life. As such, the Thai government had no choice but to close the bay to visitors in 2018, to save the beach and give the environment time to recover.

State of environmental pollution on Maya Bay due to influx of tourists. Image: The Phuket News

The closure of Maya Bay had a significant impact on the local tourism industry, as many businesses that relied on the bay for income were forced to shut down. However, the closure was necessary to protect the fragile ecosystem and prevent further damage. Since then, the Thai government has been working on a plan to reopen Maya Bay to visitors while ensuring that the environmental impact is minimised. The plan includes limiting the number of visitors allowed in the bay, restricting boat access, and implementing measures to manage waste and prevent damage to the coral reefs.

Maya Bay reef restoration project. Image: Lifestyle Asia

Depending on how it is managed, increasing tourism can both propel a country forward as well as hinder its progress. We cannot afford to lose the substantial benefit tourism can bring to a country, from economic to social to cultural prosperity, nor can we neglect the possible irreversible damage to our environment. It is crucial for a country to manage tourism in a responsible way by treading carefully between these two extreme ends for a sustainable future.

A signboard on a beach to remind people to not litter. Image: Sterling TT

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