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Economy

Boracay and Phi Phi islands to tell tourists not to come

Thai, Philippine and Indonesian resorts deal with environmental issues

This is the beach made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach." Now officials are talking of annual months-long closures.   © AP

BANGKOK -- Some of Southeast Asia's world-class beach resorts are beginning to deal with the environmental problems that tourists leave behind every day.

Thailand's Maya Bay and the Philippines' Boracay Island, in fact, are preparing temporary "keep out" signs.

Starting this year, Maya Bay on Thailand's Phi Phi Island in the Andaman Sea will be closed from June to September, according to a plan that was approved on Wednesday during a meeting of officials of the Had Nopparat Thara-Phi Phi Island National Park. The central government is expected to officially announce the annual closure by May.

Excessive tourism has been a pressing issue at the beach, especially since Leonardo DiCaprio made it famous in the 2000 Hollywood film "The Beach." Nearly 1.9 million tourists visited the beach in the fiscal year through this past September, up 12.5% on the year and a nearly sixfold increase from two years earlier.

Local industry officials attribute the surge to the significant increase in Chinese tourists. The island is now Thailand's most-visited national park, though it was not even among the top 10 in fiscal 2016.

Tourist revenue totaled 669 million baht ($21 million) in fiscal 2017, up 19% on the year. But the island's community is now ready to give up some of that income to protect the precious beach.

Although one magazine in 2012 named Boracay the world's best island destination, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in February called it a "cesspool."   © AP

Even after the beach reopens in October, tourism may be restricted, according to National Park Office Director Songtham Suksawang. Boats will not be able to enter the bay but will have to moor off a different beach on the island. Tourists will walk to the beach, but their numbers may be limited, too.

For many of the 2,000 to 4,000 visitors who make their way to the bay every day, Phi Phi Island is part of a one-day boat tour that also ferries tourists to several other Andaman Sea isles. "More than 200 boats come in and go every day, parking on the beach and ruining the density of the sand," Songtham said. "This damages the coral reefs in the bay, impacting the overall ecosystem."

The local tourism industry, including dozens of hotels, hope to mitigate the impact of the Maya Bay closure by promoting other beaches along the island.

It is perhaps a cruel coincidence that DiCaprio's movie, about a secret beach, a hideaway that the tourist hordes cannot find, has given way to a reality so overrun by tourists that locals want to close off "The Beach."

The Philippines' Boracay Island, globally renowned for its powdery, white-sand beaches, is also suffering.

In February, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would "close" the island, which he called a "cesspool" because of its "smelly" waters, brought about by a problematic sewage system.

Tourism, environment, and local government officials have recommended a cleanup period of six months to one year, which could result in a temporary shutdown of the island.

Duterte is expected to make a final decision by next month, the start of the peak summer season.

A full-year closure could result in 56 billion pesos ($1.1 billion) in losses, equivalent to the revenue generated by the island in 2017, according to the Philippine Information Agency. As many as 36,000 jobs are under threat, according to local media reports.

Boracay recorded 1.7 million visitors in 2016, up 10.6% from 2015, according to the municipal tourism office. That figure is expected to have hit 2 million in 2017.

In Indonesia, the resort island of Bali, which draws millions of tourists every year, in December declared a "garbage emergency" at some of its popular beaches.

Last year, 5.6 million tourists visited the island, up 15.6% from the previous year. The influx has led to more hotel- and restaurant-generated waste, much of which is being illegally dumped. According to the Bali-based R.O.L.E Foundation, in Southern Bali alone, more than 240 tons of solid waste is produced every day.

The Island of the Gods is also suffering due to its location. Bali is in the middle of the Indonesian Throughflow, a current that streams from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean. As such, it spends the rainy season, October to April, picking up waste disposed of in Java and other parts of Indonesia.

Popular beaches like Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak, all along a 6km coastline, declared the garbage emergency. According to media reports, 700 cleaners and 35 trucks were needed to remove around 100 tons of debris every day.

Nikkei staff writers Cliff Venzon in Manila and Shotaro Tani in Jakarta contributed to this article.

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