The Thai beach that Leonardo DiCaprio made famous in his 2000 movie The Beach is closing indefinitely thanks to the damage caused by millions of tourists. Maya Bay, one of the most popular destinations in the world, is a small beach with silky sands and crystal blue water surrounded by cliffs on Ko Phi Phi Leh island. But over the years, it has sustained such massive environmental damage from pollution that authorities have closed it for at least a year.
The movie may not have been a hit for DiCaprio, but the film’s location became so popular for tourists that up to 5,000 people and 200 boats visited each day.
Thai authorities had originally announced they would close Maya Bay for four months. They have extended the plan to at least a year because of the extent of the destruction. Litter, boats and sunscreen have caused so much pollution, it has destroyed over 80 percent of the coral around the bay.
“We have evaluated each month and found out that the ecological system was seriously destroyed from tourism of up to 5,000 people daily,” said Songtam Suksawang, the director of Thailand’s national parks department. “It’s very difficult to remedy and rehabilitate because its beach was completely destroyed as well as the plants which cover it.” He added that there had been evidence of damage to Maya Bay for years, but the government was reluctant to close it down because of the amount of annual revenue it generates — 400 million baht (about $12.3 million).
Thailand’s department of national parks, wildlife and plant conservation has said it will not lift the tourism restriction until the ecosystem “fully recovers to a normal situation.”
According to The Guardian, this is a relief for local environmental activists who had argued that closing for just four months wasn’t enough. It will take years for the reef to be fully restored, because coral only grows about half a centimeter each year.
Worapoj Lomlin, Maya Bay park chief, said the parks agency has already planted more than 1,000 corals to help rehabilitate the reefs, and the team will continue to expand the project.