When you think of the beaches of Thailand, you surely do it in Koh Phi Phi. In that archipelago is where you take pictures of crystal clear waters, wooden boats and karstic rocks that you have surely seen more than once, and in one of those islands – Koh Phi Phi Lee – is where the movie “La Playa” was filmed “(The Beach) by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Koh Phi Phi is one of the largest natural paradises on Earth and yet, the human being is doing everything possible to destroy it. What used to be a virgin paradise for intrepid backpackers wanting to immerse themselves in other cultures today is a theme park – there is even a McDonalds – and a kind of Mecca of booze tourism. With all that entails.
Of all the islands in the archipelago, only Koh Phi Phi Don – the largest – is habitable. But with only 28 square kilometers of surface, of which less than half are habitable and a large part of the spaces are for private resorts, the activity of the island is concentrated in Tonsai, a small town; and on the beach of Loh Dalum.
A space of about 4 kilometers that daily tens of thousands of tourists spend generating an unsustainable level of garbage. So much so that the beach of Loh Dalum is known among locals as “Poo Poo Beach” (La Playa de la Caca) for the immense amount of discharges that hotels, restaurants and people deposit in its waters. As explained to this magazine by a diving instructor on the island, the bath there “should be prohibited” due to the amount of waste, even though the waters look crystal clear.
“We do not have a sewage plant. Our hope is that hotels, restaurants and businesses are responsible … but we do not have faith in them, “ explains one resident.
In that same beach there are about 10 bars that at night become discotheques with fire shows -which usually end up with irresponsible tourists taking burns and other injuries-, a lot of lack of control and a high level of decibels. An acoustic contamination that does not allow sleeping to the fauna of the island, increasingly scarce.
In these beach bars wild parties are held every night for tourists. You can easily get alcohol, marijuana, MDMA or cocaine, and prostitution is the order of the day. Beyond that, the irresponsible attitude of many tourists, coupled with the lack of litter bins on the beach – and, everything said, in the whole country – has led to the creation of a daily dump in a place where swimming is not unusual between cigarette ends or dodge beer glasses in the sand.
The other beach of Ko Phi Phi Don, Ton Sai Beach, also faces a serious contamination problem. In this case, of the fuels discharged by the hundreds of boats that pass daily through the island.
That the bath is unpleasant is not the only problem: the marine corals of the island are becoming extinct. The situation is so critical that last January the Government of Thailand closed the famous Maya Bay – the beach of “The Beach”, worth the redundancy – to try to recover the corals.
Mass tourism – and the pollution that it entails – has put the coral population in the area in a situation that limits it. Thon Thamrongnawasawat, rector of the Faculty of Marine Sciences at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, believes that ” almost 80% of corals in Thailand have already been destroyed”, and blamed the hotels on the beach, the dumping of plastics and the anchors of ships of it.
How did we get to this point?
As pointed out by an anonymous informant in the study “Koh Phi Phi: Moving Towards or Away from Sustainability?”, By Rachel Dodds, “the environment stops being romantic when there is money involved”.
On December 26, 2004, when a tsunami devastated the coasts of several Southeast Asian countries, Koh Phi Phi was left in ruins. It was one of the most affected points, with more than 2,000 deaths. The tsunami struck at the same time on both beaches of the island, turning the town into a trap from which it was impossible to leave.
The island, which had started to gain fame among backpackers after the DiCaprio movie (2000) and had exponentially multiplied tourism figures until then, had to start from scratch again.
“Due to the level of emergency, there was no time to carry out a comprehensive reconstruction plan that would integrate all the parties. In addition, the economic development of the country took precedence over sustainable development, “explains the Dodds study.
The Thai government allowed to build new hotels in areas that were previously protected. Although the Phi Phi archipelago was declared a National Marine Park in 1990, resorts and buildings were built on the beachfront and many maritime routes were opened, all with the aim of reactivating tourism.
Thirteen years after the tragedy, tourism is the main source of economy of the island and one of the great pillars of the whole country. In 2017, tourism accounted for 15% of Thailand’s GDP. Economic growth, however, has been based on policies that are not very respectful of the environment and are designed to enrich a minority.
In the case of Koh Phi Phi, the licenses for new hotels were awarded to foreign investors – in some cases, with bribes in between – leaving the local population confined in a tiny space and forced to work in precarious conditions. Very little money, or none, went to improve their living conditions after the tsunami.
Although measures are now being taken to preserve natural spaces, in Koh Phi Phi it seems that they are insufficient, cosmetic or that they arrive late. Of little use closing the beach one day if the next return to visit 5,000 people who generate garbage and move in a boat that dumps waste.
What can be done to save Koh Phi Phi?
It is a chimera to pretend that hotels are closed overnight and the entrance to the island is controlled, but visitors can (and should) be more responsible. Tourists must now pay 100 baht (about 3 euros) to enter the island in terms of garbage cleaning, an amount that seems to be insufficient … or poorly focused.
It is not a question of paying, but of not generating. Pool parties and discos on the beach with music at full volume and tourists drunk, shirtless and unbridled -because of being restrained with what one can get to see there- are not exactly beneficial for the conservation of a natural paradise.
It is urgent to create tourist control policies that, in the first place, limit the time and manner in which these establishments offer their parties. But it is also necessary to educate the local population in the environment and establish measures to control the beaches that, little by little, serve to restore marine corals.
The example is not far away: the island of Koh Tao, also in Thailand, is the world center of diving and a paradise for backpackers. Although tourism increases every year, the island is managing to keep its resources almost intact thanks to community-based ecological policies. Several associations work in an altruistic way to collect garbage and raise awareness about the environment to residents and visitors.
These associations have created, for example, a wastewater treatment plant that processes gray water usable for plants and orchards. Koh Phi Phi needs, already, fewer clubs and more volunteers.
But despite the fact that the great impacts can only come with policies at the national level, the change also involves the behavior of visitors. If you go to Koh Phi Phi, try not to throw rubbish or cigarette butts on public roads.
Source: Darba Culture