Maya Bay on the Thai island of Phi Phi Leh, one of the country’s most popular spots for tourists, is set to remain closed to visitors until 2021. It was temporarily closed last year, with officials citing extensive damage caused by over-tourism, but now it seems the famous bay will be off limits for even longer. Maya Bay was the paradise setting of the movie The Beach (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) and was attracting about 6,000 people per day before its closure.
Last year, marine biologists had found that a large part of the area’s coral reefs are gone, and that many fish had vanished. According to the BBC, “Since the bay closed last June, blacktip reef sharks have been sighted swimming in the waters of the bay.”
To restore the ecosystem to full strength, new trees and coral must be planted. Their growth, however, won’t happen overnight, and it may take a few years. During last year’s initial closure, Songtham Sukswang, director of the Office of National Parks, told Reuters, “We need at least a year or even up to two years or maybe more for the environment to recover — this includes the coral reefs, mangrove, and the beach.”
To give the bay more time to recover, authorities are extending the bay by another two years. And when the park does reopen, the number of visitors will be limited, and boats will also be prohibited from mooring there. Local tourism operators, however, rely heavily on the beach as an attraction and are perhaps even more impatient than the visitors themselves for its reopening.