The beach, surrounded by 100-meter (328-foot) high cliffs, is on the island of Phi Phi Leh in the Andaman Sea, and is only accessible by boats from nearby places such as the islands. from Phuket or Phi Phi, or mainland Krabi.
Authorities closed all of Maya Bay to the public in 2018, saying coral reefs and beaches had been damaged by constant tourist activities. But since the start of this year, some visitors have been allowed to return.
“The sharks have returned, the coral reefs are growing again and the water is clear again,” Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told Reuters.
“These things show that nature will heal if we give it time, and we have to work to keep it that way.”
To ensure it remains protected, authorities said only 375 visitors would be allowed to visit it at a time and that swimming would be banned at this time. Boats will only be allowed to dock at a designated location at the back of the bay to avoid damage to coral reefs, they said.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, tourism accounted for around 12% of Thailand’s economy and was a key driver of growth, with the country attracting 40 million visitors in 2019.
But mass tourism has often come at an environmental cost in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, with once-beautiful tropical beaches being polluted and littered with trash.
“Maya Bay is beautiful, it’s a wonderful place,” said Manuele Panin, a 40-year-old Italian tourist visiting the beach.
“I think it’s good that it has been closed all this time to protect nature and allow it to restore and recover.”