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Environment

Oct 04, 2018

Paradise is Closed, Indefinitely: “The Beach” is Shut Down to Tourists.

The Koh Phi Phi National Park’s department has issued an indefinite closure to Maya Bay, once a tropical paradise made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The Beach, now ruined.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

The reason for the closure isn’t because of a hidden cache of marijuana plants, unruly drug smugglers or a lawless community of outcasts, as fictionalized in Alex Garland’s book, then turned into a movie starting Leonardo Di Caprio. Instead, the closure will be enforced to allow the fragile marine ecological system to recover from the damage caused by millions of tourists.

In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, a young traveler named Richard, finds a map to a legendary island paradise that sounds too good to be true. Nevertheless, Richard sets out in search of this unspoiled paradise that lacks the degeneracy of civilization. Since the film’s release, visitors from around the world have flocked to Maya Bay – the film’s location – in search of such a paradise. But this rampant over-tourism has taken its toll on the ecosystem.

Rampant over-tourism has taken its toll on the ecosystem.

The film’s themes do materialize through the Maya Bay closing on Koh Phi Phi Leh island. First, “things aren’t always as they seem.” In the film, the small community that has settled on the beach appears utopian at first until unethical, even murderous choices are made. To make a connection, travelers to Maya Bay book their trips based on idealized photography fit for computer desktop wallpaper, hoping to snap the perfect shot for their Instagram feed. Yet when they arrive to the beach, shuttled like cattle hundreds at a time through trash-filled water, past unhygienic toilets, their illusions of a paradise are shattered.

Photo: Jules Antonio

More People, More Problems

One of the main tenets of the post-societal community in The Beach is to limit visitors at all costs. All members can agree that more people equals more problems. Similarly, more tourists have led to overwhelming environmental degradation in Maya Bay.

More than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay has been devastated by mass tourism

Each day, tourists are brought in via speedboat from nearby Phi Phi, Phuket and Krabi in the hundreds and even thousands. One recent traveler (and Leo enthusiast), Aubrey Romp, shared her disappointing experience with The Outdoor Journal. “We signed up for a boat trip from Krabi on the mainland. The boat couldn’t find space to reach the beach so we had to swim to shore. It was super crowded. People pretty much took the stereotypical selfie and then sat on the beach. The only time I left the main beach was to go to the public toilet which was dirty and gross. Nature was ruined by overcrowding.”

Thai authorities initially announced a planned 4-month closure starting in June, but have now extended the closure indefinitely. According to The Guardian, it’s estimated that more than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay has been devastated by mass tourism. Because coral grows at a cosmically slow pace of less than a centimeter per year in many cases, the Maya Bay closure could remain in effect for years.

Read Next on The Outdoor Journal: Adventure Tourism in India Leading to Deaths and Massive Environmental Degradation

Feature Image: Diego Delso

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Environment

Sep 04, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.

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WRITTEN BY

Terry Hughes

That’s the conclusion of the latest five-yearly report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, released on Friday. The report assessed literally hundreds of scientific studies published on the reef’s declining condition since the last report was published in 2014.

The past five years were a game-changer. Unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2016 and 2017, triggered by record-breaking warm sea temperatures, severely damaged two-thirds of the reef. Recovery since then has been slow and patchy.

Fish swimming among coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

Looking to the future, the report said “the current rate of global warming will not allow the maintenance of a healthy reef for future generations […] the window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now”.

But that window of opportunity is being squandered so long as Australia’s and the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The evidence on the reef’s condition is unequivocal

A logical national response to the outlook report would be a pledge to curb activity that contributes to global warming and damages the reef. Such action would include a ban on the new extraction of fossil fuels, phasing out coal-fired electricity generation, transitioning to electrified transport, controlling land clearing and reducing local stressors on the reef such as land-based runoff from agriculture.

But federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s response to the outlook report suggested she saw no need to take dramatic action on emissions, when she declared: “it’s the best managed reef in the world”.

Major coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have devastated the reef.

The federal government’s lack of climate action was underscored by another dire report card on Friday. Official quarterly greenhouse gas figures showed Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen to the highest annual levels since the 2012-13 financial year.

But rather than meaningfully tackle Australia’s contribution to climate change, the federal government has focused its efforts on fixing the damage wrought on the reef. For example as part of a A$444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the government has allocated $100 million for reef restoration and adaptation projects over the next five years or so.

Solutions being supported by the foundation include a sunscreen-like film to float on the water to prevent light penetration, and gathering and reseeding coral spawn Separately, Commonwealth funds are also being spent on projects such as giant underwater fans to bring cooler water to the surface.

But the scale of the problem is much, much larger than these tiny interventions.


Climate change is not the only threat to the reef

The second biggest impact on the Great Barrier Reef’s health is poor water quality, due to nutrient and sediment runoff into coastal habitats. Efforts to address that problem are also going badly.

This was confirmed in a confronting annual report card on the reef’s water quality, also released by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments on Friday.

The Great Barrier Reef attained world heritage status in the 1980s.
AAP

It showed authorities have failed to reach water quality targets set under the Reef 2050 Plan – Australia’s long-term plan for improving the condition of the reef.

For example the plan sets a target that by 2025, 90% of sugarcane land in reef catchments should have adopted improved farming practices. However the report showed the adoption had occurred on just 9.8% of land, earning the sugarcane sector a grade of “E”.

So yes, the reef is definitely in danger

The 2019 outlook report and other submissions from Australia will be assessed next year when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets to determine if the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” – an outcome the federal government will fight hard to avoid.

An in-danger listing would signal to the world that the reef was in peril, and put the federal government under greater pressure to urgently prevent further damage. Such a listing would be embarrassing for Australia, which presents itself as a world’s-best manager of its natural assets.

Environment activists engaged in a protest action to bring attention to the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

The outlook report maintains that the attributes of the Great Barrier Reef
that led to its inscription as a world heritage area in 1981 are still intact, despite the loss of close to half of the corals in 2016 and 2017.

But by any rational assessment, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger. Most of the pressures on the reef are ongoing, and some are escalating – notably anthropogenic heating, also known as human-induced climate change.

Read more:
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief scientist: science will lie at the heart of our decisions

And current efforts to protect the reef are demonstrably failing. For example despite an ongoing “control” program, outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish – triggered by poor water quality – have spread throughout the reef.

The federal government has recently argued that climate change should not form the basis for an in-danger listing, because rising emissions are not the responsibility of individual countries. The argument comes despite Australia having one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the world.

But as Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – an outcome supported by government policy – the continued downward trajectory of the Great Barrier Reef is inevitable.The Conversation

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: A supplied image obtained Thursday, June 6, 2013 of holiday makers in the Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland, October 2008. ReefLive, a live 12-hour interactive online show about the reef, will be broadcast on YouTube from 10am (AEST) on Friday to coincide with World Ocean Day on Saturday. (AAP Image/Supplied by Tourism and Events Queensland, Richard Fitzpatrick) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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