Under a new plan, the world-famous karst-lined cove may soon welcome limited numbers of tourists.
Top officials in Thailand are now mulling whether to reopen one of the country’s most famous beaches within the next six months, though under strict conditions. Earlier this week, environment minister Warawut Silpa-Archa said the move would give the local tourism industry a much-needed boost. He championed a more sustainable approach, limiting the number of daily visitors to just 350, with boats prohibited from dropping anchor near the shoreline as they did in the past. Warawut also said a pier is being built at Loh Sama Bay on the other side of the island to allow tourists to reach Maya Bay on foot. State news agency NNT reports that a panel of marine and environmental experts will be consulted about the plan before it receives the final go-ahead.
Protected as part of Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, and located on the small, uninhabited island of Phi Phi Leh in Krabi province, Maya Bay catapulted to global fame after being featured in the 2000 Hollywood movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The area has been closed since June 2018 to recover from environmental damage caused by nearly two decades of uncontrolled mass tourism.
Before its wholesale closure, Maya Bay hosted between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors per day, double the estimated daily carrying capacity of 2,400 people given by the Thai environment ministry. According to government figures, more than 1.6 million tourists visited Maya Bay in 2017; that number put immense pressure on the fragile marine ecosystem, polluting the crystal-clear waters, scaring away wildlife, and wrecking coral reefs.
But Maya Bay has made an incredible recovery in the past two years: coral nurseries planted by conservationists thrive in the undisturbed waters, the fish population is up at least 200 percent, while black-tip reef sharks and seabirds such as egrets and herons have returned. At the moment the beach remains off-limits to all visitors, and boats are not allowed to enter the sheltered turquoise bay.