A couple of weeks ago, the white sandy beach of Maya Bay was closed indefinetely by the authorities of Thailand. The reason, mass tourism. As simple as that. The magic scenery made famous thanks, or because of, the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was literally wrecked by the continuous flow of incoming tourists since it was shot to fame by the movie.
Maya Bay was recorded to be the most popular tourist destination in Thailand over the past years receiving up to 5000 tourists and 200 boats a day. While the great affluence of tourists has considerably supported the local economy in the short term, it has seemingly damaged the location in the long term. Focusing on the short-term gains, the Thai government did not take action to protect the area despite increasing evidence of the negative impact of mass tourism in this area. It is true that the activity was generating approx. 12M$ per year, however the focus on short-term monetary gains is currently destabilizing the whole area.
After multiple years of hesitating to take action, the Thai government made a strong stand by closing the bay indefinitely to protect the area. A blunt and courageous move that is rare in today’s politics and it shows the consideration for the long-term sustainability of the area. Refusing the sirens of short-term gains towards longer-term benefits. We all know the story of the goose with the golden eggs, well that is kind of the same thing. The authorities decided to protect the bay area from the massive amount of tourists with the associated piles of garbage that are being thrown in the ocean, the pollution of waters because of the boats and the spoliation of the limited natural resources of the island.
Taking a bit of a distance with the story, it is interesting to see that one of the major Hollywood actors, Leonardo DiCaprio, and one of the most visible defenders of the environment on the international stage through funding of various sustainability projects and the now infamous speech at the United Nations was actually, because of his fame, also the reason of the decay of this heavenly part of the Ko Phi Phi Leh island. Meat for thought on whether fame is the cause or is it a tool towards more sustainability and the possible duality of everybody’s actions. The beach significantly participated in DiCaprio’s fame and now it is a clear example of how humans can spoil natural beauty … A cause that DiCaprio is defending!
When will the beach be re-opened? We hope that the Thai authorities will take its time to come up with a sustainability plan before reopening the site, paving the way towards ecotourism and showing best practices in the matter. Hopefully, this case will be an example to be followed and not just a temporary solution.