By Bryan Lynn
03 June, 2018

The Thailand beach made famous in the Leonardo DiCaprio film "The Beach" is being closed to give it a break from tourists.

The beach sits on Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh island, off the coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. The government ordered that no visitors will be permitted to go to the bay from June through September 2018.

Thai officials say the decision is aimed at giving the area's coral reefs and sea life a chance to recover. Tourism officials say up to 5,000 visitors travel to the beach every day.

Numerous tourists walk along the Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh island in Krabi province, Thailand, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Numerous tourists walk along the Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh island in Krabi province, Thailand, Thursday, May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thon Thamrongnawasawat is an ocean scientist and member of a government committee on environmental development. He told the Associated Press the closure is needed to help the beach heal.

"It's like someone who has been working for decades and has never stopped," he said. "Overworked and tired, all the beauty of the beach is gone. We need a timeout for the beach."

Maya Bay was used as the main filming area for the 2000 movie "The Beach." It starred Leonardo DiCaprio as an American traveling through Asia with friends. The group is given a map that promises to lead them to paradise on earth.

The film showed the world the bay's beautiful white sandy beaches and bright blue waters.

Many of Thailand's ocean national parks are closed from mid-May to mid-October. But high tourist demand led officials to keep Maya Bay open the whole year.

Recent studies by ocean biologists found a large part of coral reefs in the area had disappeared. Most sea life was also gone.

Thon had urged the government to close the area to visitors for many years. He said he thinks the action should have been taken at least 10 years ago. "But you know in Thailand we are a tourism industry country, and we need a lot of money, so before not so many people listened."

A Thai official in the tourist area of Phuket told Reuters the closing of Maya Bay was one way to protect part of the country's natural beauty, which will be important for tourism in the future.

But some local people are not completely happy. The head of the Phi Phi Tourist Business Association, Watrapol Jantharo, said he was surprised when the closure was announced.

He said he and others in the area thought Maya Bay would only be closed to boats, while visitors would still be permitted to walk to the beach from the other side of the island.

"We are not against protecting our environment," Watrapol said. "We know full well that Maya Bay is our important resource, like a rice field to a farmer. But we wish there were more communications about the government's plan before the decision was made."

Other Southeast Asian beach resorts have also come under threat because of continued increases in the number of visitors.

In the Philippines, the government began in late April a six-month closure of its popular tourist island of Boracay. The island is known for its soft, white sand beaches and lively nightlife.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had called the area around Boracay a "cesspool" because of large amounts of waste going directly into the ocean. "The germ content is already very high there. It only looks good because of the white coastline," Duterte said.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tourist n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

coral reef n. a long line of coral that lies in warm, shallow water (coral: a hard material formed on the bottom of the sea by the skeletons of small creatures)

paradise n. a perfect place or situation

resource n. natural substances such as water and wood that are valuable in supporting life

cesspool n. large, underground hole or container used for collecting and storing human waste and dirty water

germ n. a very small organism that causes disease