Thailand Phi Phi Islands

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Thailand - Phi Phi Islands - A paradise lost
How to destroy a unique natural environment
Photos: Giancarlo Radice
The Phi Phi Islands (Thailand) are the perfect example of the effects of out-of-control tourist overcrowding. The uncontaminated paradise that the director Danny Boyle described in his cult film "The Beach" in 2000, no longer exists. At Phi Phi Don, the largest and only inhabited island, thousands of young backpackers from all over the world, from Europe to South America, are attracted by the legend of the famous film with Leonardo Di Caprio and come here to fill the maze of hotels and guesthouses, bars, restaurants and shops built without any criteria after the 2004 tsunami. They spend their days among beaches, scuba diving, bars and "tattoo parlours", waiting for the late-night Ibiza-style pool parties and the evenings on the Loh Dalum Bay to dance to disco music at full blast while enjoying the inevitable "bucket" of energy drinks + alcohol that will sustain them until sunrise.

But the most serious threat comes from the boom in Asian tourism that has exploded in recent years and the multiplication of families and groups - mainly Chinese, Indian and Korean - leaving from nearby Phuket, Krabi or Koh Lanta on boats with 1,000 horsepower engines to go spend a few hours or a few days in Phi Phi. Every day (depending on the season) between 10,000 and 20,000 tourists disembark at Phi Phi Don: this is an unsustainable flow for an island of just 10 square kilometres and less than 3 thousand inhabitants. Especially since the island lacks both a sewage system and a waste disposal facility. And almost all the hotels and restaurants have no water purification systems. Thus in high season, every evening the banks of the twin bays of Loh Dalum and Tonsai have a turquoise sea covered with a layer of whitish foam on which bottles, plastic bags, diapers and sunscreen float. Every morning a ship carries 25 to 40 tons of solid waste to the incinerator in Ao Nan or to other cities on the Thai coast. But that is not enough. Garbage is dumped everywhere on Phi Phi Don.

So far, the alarms sounded by environmental organisations have been worthless. At the famous beach of the film "The Beach" known as Maya Bay, the entire bay is transformed from early morning into a gigantic motorboat parking lot. Thousands of tourists on the beach make it similar to the stands of a crowded stadium. Everyone stands, as there is not even space to lie down in the sun. Over 80% of the corals are now lost. The damage is so great that this year the authorities of the province of Krabi, which governs Phi Phi, are thinking of prohibiting boat traffic from accessing Maya Bay in the off-season months from June to September. But according to experts from the University of Bangkok, the island must have a total blockade for years to reconstitute its ecosystem.
Thailand Phi Phi Islands
International photojournalism