Koh Phi Phi (Thailand) – The destruction of a paradise. How tourism destroys the beauty it promotes

Koh Phi Phi (Thailand) – The destruction of a paradise. How tourism destroys the beauty it promotes

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Rush hour in paradise: the first speed boats from Phuket arrive here around 10 a.m. They are crowded with Chinese tourists. This beach used to be a jewel, deserted and pristine. But this is over. Jareed Na Takuathung seems to be the only one in charge of restraining the tourist masses. Jareed is the chief guardian of Maya Bay. He seems to be one against all. Can he manage this? “There are places here you are not supposed to enter, to protect nature. But the Chinese just go there. Then I say: Hey, don´t go there! But they also don´t understand me. Sometimes they laugh at me as if I had made a joke.” Maya Bay belongs to Koh Phi Phi. This island once was seen as queen of the Andaman Sea. A place of unspoilt beauty, that´s how Thailand´s tourism managers promote it. But year by year, Koh Phi Phi gets a little bit uglier, others say. Prasert Wongna grew up at Koh Phi Phi´s beaches. He can´t recognise his island anymore, and that happened a long time ago. “When I was a child, Koh Phi Phi was the perfect place. The forest here was so green and fertile. The beach was a dream. And underwater, the corals were so beautiful. And there was plenty of fish.” Koh Phi Phi thirty years ago: jungle covered everything. In the 1980s and 1990s, the construction boom started. Then the devastating Tsunami ten years ago, and then the next disaster: the reconstruction, unplanned and unrestricted, worse than ever before. [because Thai authorities are corrupt and allow all kind of construction, when bribed enough.] Meanwhile there are almost 200 hotels on this small piece of land in the ocean, countless new construction sites, and more and more visitors. “We have two sorts of tourists here: The ones who come for a few days and stay on the island. The main problem are the many day tourists. They come by boat, eat something at the beach, leave their garbage and disappear. Koh Phi Phi can not handle this.” The tour operators transport more and more tourists from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi, no matter how rough the sea is; the only thing that matters is making money. The damages to the ecosystem are dramatic by now, underwater as well. A local diving school attempts to protect the endangered underwater world from mass tourism as much as possible. They go diving for a special aim here. “The Hollywood movie ´The Beach´ made Koh Phi Phi world famous. We earn our money with the tourists, and that´s good, but they are simply way too many. The island is dying.” Hollywood has made Maya Bay famous, and Thailand´s tourism industry has destroyed it. The fish swarms still exist, and the rich colours and incredible beauty of the underwater world. The corals around Maya Bay though are almost all dead, marine biologists say. The anchors of the speed boats smashing on the sea bottom, hotel sewage, illegal garbage dumping, global warming and coral bleaching have turned the sea bottom into a battlefield. But this can also be found underwater: A coral school. It´s the private initiative of some worried divers. One day, these young corals are supposed to build a new artificial reef. One day. “We saw a lot of fish, and I´m always happy to see how the corals are growing. They will be a new home for fishes one day.” It´s getting crowded around noon in Maya Bay. On some days, there is standing room only in the fine sand. 5,000 to 7,000 tourists come here every day. Europeans are coming, but mostly Chinese tourists who want to escape from the mega cities in their home country. “We have the beach here and water, and some fish, and mountains, and blue sky. It´s very beautiful.” The whole drama takes place in a national park of all places, in a protected area. [Corrupt authorities don´t care.] Local rangers feel let down by the administration in Bangkok. They´ve created some kind of house rules: Don´t feed the fishes! Don´t stand on the corals! And don´t throw litter in the sea! They try to save what still can be saved. “Not even 10 years! Maybe 5. If nothing happens here, all corals will be dead. Koh Phi Phi is like a beautiful woman you don´t take care of. One day, she will not be beautiful anymore, and one day she will disappear completely.” At the evening, the sun sheds a magic light on Koh Phi Phi. Clear sky, blue water, rocks in the sea: the dream of an island. No wonder that Thailand´s tourism industry can boast new tourist records year by year.

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