For a number of months now the international media has been reporting that this year from June 1st until September 30th the iconic and infamous Maya Bay will be off limits to tourists. This time has now arrived, and The Adventure Club are happy to clear up any concerns as to how this restriction is likely to impact travellers to Koh Phi Phi.
From May to October Koh Phi Phi is subject to the annual Southwest Monsoon coming to Thailand from the Indian Ocean and impacting the Andaman Coast. During these months the wind (and therefore waves) move in a southwesterly direction towards Phi Phi from Phuket, which means that Maya Bay (found on the west side of Phi Phi Ley) can get pretty battered by waves and is rarely accessible to boat traffic for much of this period anyway.
For a number of years already specific dive sites beginning within Maya Bay (Maya Corner and Maya South to Whaleshark Wall) have been closed to divers to allow for natural restoration, so divers are completely unaffected.
However the limitations to access Maya Bay does little to impact the trips that The Adventure Club offer. Our Phi Phi Ley snorkel and our Sunset Plankton Tour both have options to visit Maya Bay, however, most of our guests rarely venture onto the beach there and prefer to get back to snorkeling as quick as possible. We never scuba dive in Maya Bay either as there is little to see there and we have many other dive sites that offer amazing marine life and corals.
Phi Phi Ley’s towering limestone cliffs provide shelter from the monsoon wind and waves on the east side, meaning that the following dive and snorkel sites remain accessible – Viking Cave, the Artificial Reef and Coral Nursery, Pi-ley Wall North and South, Pi-Ley Bay, the Kled Gaeow Wreck, as well as the Bida islands (conditions permitting). As such neither divers nor snorkelers staying on Koh Phi Phi are affected by the restrictions to Maya Bay.
The only people that may be effected are those day-trippers from other islands such as Phuket, Krabi or Ao Nang who journey by speedboat to the area just to see Maya Beach. Even the Maya Bay Liveaboard/Camping Trips from Phi Phi are still running, just they are camping and sleeping overnight at a different location on the island. In essence if you are staying on Koh Phi Phi itself as opposed to coming over just for the day, you will barely notice any difference other than fewer boats (which means more fish!).
Whilst these restrictions are new to Maya Bay, the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) and DNP (Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation) implement seasonal closure to several natural parks every year in Thailand (such as the Similans and Surin Islands and the Ko Lanta Marine Park) to allow nature to rest and revive, during the period that it will least impact travellers.
During the peak season alone, between December and February, over 5,000 tourists a day descend upon Maya Bay’s 300 meter beach. The sheer volume of visitors and boats, in addition to the garbage and pollution they produce has taken a heavy toll on Maya Bay. There is significant environmental damage threatening the beach’s ecosystem, with the bay’s coral reefs taking the hardest hit, becoming suffocated by sand sediment. Limiting access allows for natural rejuvenation and ecological recovery time, as illustrated by other restricted-areas around Ko Phi Phi such as Viking Cave, Koh Yung (Moskito Island) and Koh Mai Phai (Bamboo Island).
Travellers visiting during the rejuvenation period will still be able to catch a glimpse of ’The Beach’ (conditions permitting) from 400 meters out in Maya Bay, just they cannot go any nearer or step on it.
The Adventure Club applaud these new restrictions and hope that lessons can be learned as authorities try to determine how to ensure the area’s environmental sustainability. It is hoped that this may be the precursor to a more thorough tourism management strategy to the area, restricting the number of visitors and boats per day from October.