Those who saw Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2000 movie “The Beach” will no doubt recall the spectacular setting for that Film, Maya Bay in Thailand. The film was based on the 1996 novel of the same name by author Alex Garland.

Maya Bay is, indeed, a beautiful setting with its golden sands, crystal clear blue water and the cliffs surrounding the bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh Island in Thailand. The movie has attracted millions of tourists to the island and the bay itself. Now Thailand is making an effort to let the bay recover from the environmental damage caused by up to 5,000 visitors a day and 200 boats visiting the bay.

Environmental damage in Maya Bay

Back in June this year, Thai authorities temporarily closed the beach for four months in the hope that the environment could recover. It was due to reopen to the public this month. However, due to the amount of damage caused by the many visitors to the bay, they have decided to extend that closure indefinitely.

Authorities estimate that more than 80 percent of the coral surrounding Maya Bay has been completely destroyed due to the litter left behind by visitors, the boats taking them to the bay and the sun cream used by sunbathers in Maya Bay.

Songtam Suksawang is the director of the national parks department in Thailand.

The New York Post quotes him as saying they have evaluated the environment surrounding the beach each month and discovered that the up to 5,000 people visiting it daily has seriously destroyed it.

According to Suksawang, they have a hard job on their hands to remedy the damage caused and rehabilitate the beach, as it has been “completely destroyed” along with the plants covering it.

Speaking of the four-month closure, he said it was impossible to recover the beach in that allotted time.

Thai authorities were reluctant to close the beach

It turns out that the popularity of Maya Bay has brought approximately 400 million baht (£9.5m) to the country in visitor revenue each year. This led the Thai authorities to be reluctant to close it completely.

Things have now changed after the department of national parks published a royal gazette on 1 October to officially announce restrictions on visitors to the beach will stay in place until Maya Bay’s ecosystem can fully recover to its normal standards.

As reported by The Guardian, this is good news for local environmental campaigners who had been pushing for a longer closure than the four-month period. Reportedly it will take years for the coral reef to recover as it only grows around half a centimetre each year.

Worapoj Lomlim, head of the parks agency in Thailand, said they had already rehabilitated several coral reefs in Maya Bay after planting over 1,000 corals and they will now expand that project even further.