When “The Beach,” a film featuring a hidden beach on a pristine island in the Gulf of Thailand, first came out in 2000, Thailand was averaging 10 million tourists annually.
Then the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, helped to propel that number to around 35 million because it presented Thailand as a dream vacation, according to USA Today. As a result, the country’s beaches and marine ecosystems have been thoroughly degraded.
And now Maya Bay, the area featured in “The Beach,” will be shut down for four months each year beginning June 1 so that its coral reefs can recover, Time reports.
The authorities say that mass tourism — 4,000 daily beach-goers and hundreds of boats — has nearly destroyed the bay’s coral reefs, according to USA Today.
"It's like someone who has been working for decades and has never stopped," said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of Thailand's national strategy committee on environment development, told USA Today. "Overworked and tired, all the beauty of the beach is gone. We need a timeout for the beach."
In recent years, a surge in Chinese tourism has further overwhelmed the natural landscape, The South China Morning Post writes.
For years now, tourists have flocked to Maya Bay in Thailand, scrambling over one another trying unsuccessfully to find an unspoiled view of the paradise made famous the film "The Beach."— NBC News World (@NBCNewsWorld) May 31, 2018
But Thai authorities have now said that the bay has had enough of visitors. pic.twitter.com/spQm7xKevf
“We are a beautiful country but we have to protect our natural resources,” Thamrongnawasawat told the BBC. “We have significant information that all the boats that come in and out really impact the coral reef.”
Thailand has had success closing beaches to tourists in the past. For example, the islands Koh Yoong and Koh Tachai were closed in mid-2016 and have already begun to recover, with coral reefs regaining much of their vibrancy, according to USA Today.
All around the world, coral reefs are being threatened by a range of forces, including warming ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, overfishing, invasive species, and more.
In Hawaii, government officials recently banned sunscreens containing a substance that’s highly toxic to coral reefs.
Thailand is taking this strategy a step further by limiting beach access, reducing the potential for pollution in the future.
If all goes well, Maya Bay could look like it did when DiCaprio lounged on its shores.
"I have always dreamt that one day we could work to bring her back to life,” Thamrongnawasawat told USA Today. “I have been following and working on Maya Bay for more than 30 years. I had seen it when it was a heaven and I see it when it has nothing left. Anything that we can do to bring this paradise back to Thailand is the dream of a marine biologist.".
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