‘Beach’ balm: Maya Bay’s ecosystem recovering, says dept

The beach on Maya Bay has been closed to visitors. (Photo by Handout / Thai National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department / AFP)

The ecology of the famed Maya Bay on Phi Phi Island in Krabi is making a gradual recovery with the number of corals and sightings of reef sharks off the coast on the upswing, according to Chongkhlai Wongphongsathon, deputy director-general of the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

The number of corals has been increasing and more blacktip reef sharks are found to have been frequenting the waters since the bay was closed on June 1. This indicates that the ecosystem of the bay is improving, Mr Chongkhlai said.

He added that there is also plenty of small marine life appearing in the sea because the bay has not been disturbed by tourism activities, he added.

He was speaking while leading a team of DNP officials and reporters to survey the area yesterday.

Before the bay was closed, the beach had suffered sand erosion caused by large numbers of tourists walking on the beach, which also interrupted the natural process of sediment replenishment on the beach, Mr Chongkhlai said.

The renowned bay has been closed indefinitely due to extensive damage caused by the overwhelming number of visitors.

The bay is closed for four months every year to allow for environmental recovery.

However, although the bay was supposed to reopen on Oct 1, the department decided to keep it closed indefinitely after learning about the substantial damage, he said.

Mr Chongkhlai said yesterday measures have been put in place to restore the natural surroundings of the bay, with beachfront structures removed to allow for natural sand replenishment. Trees have also been planted along the shoreline to prevent coastal erosion.

The DNP’s campaign to restore the environment to its previous state saw the planting of more than 1,000 corals in 25 rai of the bay, and more areas will be replanted.

Songtham Suksawang, director of the National Park Office, cited a study and said that certain chemicals in sunscreen products are to blame for the death of more than half of the corals at the famed bay.

He said the chemicals cause corals to bleach. In the worst cases, they even paralyse or kill the corals.

Other factors attributed to the damage to Maya Bay’s corals are the anchors and propellers of the many tourist boats which ply the sea, he said.

The DNP has also refused to reopen Maya Bay despite facing heavy pressure from tour operators, saying tourists can choose from three other equally attractive options.

Pileh Bay, Loh Moo Dee Bay and Koh Hong in the southern province are all well worth visiting, the department said.

Mr Songtham squashed the rumour that Maya Bay would reopen on Nov 1 in a bid to help local tour operators.

Maya Bay became known worldwide following the release of The Beach, the movie released in 2000 based starring Leonardo Di Caprio.

It is considered the most visited national park, bringing in around 400 million baht in revenue last year. During peak seasons, about 5,000 tourists visited Maya Bay — more than double its capacity.

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