Thailand

A Paradise Lost

How to destroy a unique natural environment in less than a decade

Goodbye Maya Bay! The island paradise made world famous by the cult film The Beach starring Leonardo Di Caprio is no longer the uncontaminated haven depicted in the film by director Danny Boyle in 2000. In fact, it has become the perfect example of how uncontrolled and excessive tourism, in the space of just a few years, has been capable of destroying one of the world’s unique natural environments. The Thai authorities, in whose territory the island is situated, have been forced to impose a total block “for an unspecified time” on any form of access. No more speedboats with 1000cc motors that shatter the corals. No more crowds of visitors that besiege the bay each day leaving behind them a wake of rubbish.

The situation is now alarming in all of the Phi Phi islands, of which Maya Bay is just one portion. At Phi Phi Don, the largest island and the only one that is inhabited, thousands of young backpackers from all over the world, from Europe to South America, arrive attracted by the legend of the celebrated movie to fill the labyrinth of hotels and guesthouses, bars, restaurants and shops built without any criteria following the tsunami in 2004. However, the most serious threat comes from the Asian tourist boom that has exploded in recent years with the multitude of families and groups mainly from China, India and Korea, who depart from nearby Phuket, Krabi or Koh Lanta just to spend a few hours at Phi Phi. Each day, depending on the season, between 10 and 20 thousand tourists disembark on Phi Phi Don, an unsustainable influx for an island of a mere 10 square kilometres with less than three thousand inhabitants. Furthermore, the island has no sewage system or waste disposal plant. Therefore, in the high season, at Loh Dalum, Tonsai and Maya Bay during the evenings the turquoise seas are covered in a thin layer of whitish foam dotted with bottles, plastic bags, nappies and sun cream. A situation that only now, with the closure of “The Beach” are the Thai authorities showing a willingness to resolve.

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