“Never outstay the welcome”: DiCaprio beach to close to tourists

Maya Bay, made an icon in the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach, to close for four months

When Danny Boyle and Leonardo DiCaprio made The Beach, a film about how a paradise can become a hell, little did they know that the bay they made famous would suffer the same fate.

The tiny Maya Bay, on the island of Ko Phi Phi Le in Thailand, receives thousands of tourists a day. They’re destroying the ecosystem of the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park in which it lies – and they’ve clearly not paid any attention to the code that DiCaprio’s character explains in The Beach: “Never outstay the welcome.”

So now Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has ordered the bay to close for four months as part of a rejuvenation programme.

“Never outstay the welcome”: DiCaprio beach to close to tourists
Maya Bay is suffering from overtourism, as thousands visit every day – Harry Green / Shutterstock

From 1 June to 30 September, boats will no longer be able to enter the bay, nor drop anchor at the nearby Loh Samah Bay. Travellers will be able to view the bay from afar, and will be supervised by officials from the DNP.

There are no inhabitants on Ko Phi Phi Le and no hotels. The beach is only 250 metres long, and has 14 toilets.

80 per cent of the coral reefs surrounding the island are thought to have been destroyed by pollution from the 200 boats that regularly moor. This means that marine life in the area has become virtually extinct.

A statement from the Tourism Authority of Thailand said: “During the four-month period, the DNP will undertake a coastal and marine environment quality evaluation study on the condition of reef and beach resources, environmental control and tourism management.”

“Never outstay the welcome”: DiCaprio beach to close to tourists
The island of Ko Phi Phi Le is tiny and does not have the infrastructure to cope – Shutterstock

“This is to properly determine measures for environmental sustainability of Maya Bay during future off-tourist seasons.”

Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park was expected to see 2.5 million visitors in 2018 – a year-on-year rise of 500,000. The 387.9-square-kilometre protected area holds coral reefs and a diverse range of wildlife. It is close to the popular beach destination of Phi Phi Don.

The closure of Maya Bay is not the first. Recently, Boracay island in the Philippines was closed to tourists, which was named the world’s best island by the Condé Nast Traveler 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards.

“I will close Boracay. Boracay is a cesspool. You go into the water, it’s smelly. Smell of what? S***. Because it all comes out in Boracay,” Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, said in typically forthright language at the time.

The producers of The Beach, 20th Century Fox, were embroiled in lawsuits for years after the production of the film. They used bulldozers to landscape the beach and ripped up palm trees to make Maya Bay appear more like paradise. While Fox set up a fund to restore the beach to its original state, the damage is thought to be permanent.