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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Iconic South-East Asian beaches closed to save the eco-system

Maya Bay, Thailand, Mike Clegg, photographer

From the Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times

Popular beaches will be closed to tourists this season, to help preserve increasingly fragile ecosystems, including Maya Bay (pictured above), where the movie The Beach was filmed.

The beaches "simply cannot handle so many people, pollution from boats and beachfront hotels," said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine expert in Bangkok.

"Coral reefs have been degraded by warmer seas and overcrowding.  Sometimes complete closure is the only way for nature to heal."

More than three-quarters of Thailand's coral reefs have been damaged by rising sea temperatures and unchecked tourism.

Thailand closed dozens of dive sites to tourists in 2011, after unusually warm seas caused severe damage in the Andaman Sea, one of the world's top diving regions.  It also shut some islands in 2016.

The country's sandy beaches helped draw record numbers of tourists last year, contributing about 12% of the economy.  The government expects 38 million visitors this year.

This continuing damage, plus rising seas and warming temperatures, deprives fishermen of their living, and contributes to bigger, more devastating storms.

The Philippines is facing the same problem.  Last year, about two million people visited Boracay, which used to be celebrated for its pristine white beaches.  On a visit last month, President Duterte called the island a "cesspool."  Sewage from hotels has simply been dumped into the sea.

The island is to be closed for six months, much to the fury of tour operators, who say that 36,000 jobs are at stake.

Thailand's Thon warned against short-term fixes.  "Tourism is important," he agreed, "but we need to preserve these spaces for our future generations, for future livelihoods."

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