Thai bay from 'The Beach' to be shuttered for 4 months

Bangkok (AFP) - The once-idyllic Thai bay that became a must-see on the tourist trail after the 2000 movie "The Beach" will be closed to visitors for four months, an official said Thursday, as Thailand looks to stem the impact from crowds.

The announcement bolsters an order last month blocking boats from mooring on Maya Bay in a bid to prevent further damage to its coral reefs.

Up to 4,000 tourists and hundreds of boats have been flocking daily to the white-sand beach on Ko Phi Phi Ley, an island whose towering limestone cliffs and azure waters were made famous by the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

But the bay will now be off limits to travellers for four months from June and September, which falls during Thailand's monsoon season, said National Park Office Director Songtham Suksawang.

"We reached a resolution to close Maya for four months to allow the ecological system to rehabilitate," he told AFP.

The beach's land entrance will be shuttered while boats will be barred from dropping off passengers, he added.

During the shutdown four universities will conduct a study on how to develop more sustainable forms of tourism, he said.

The closure is the latest effort to mitigate the environmental damage wrought by Thailand's mammoth tourism industry, a crucial pillar of the economy that brought a record 35 million travellers to the kingdom last year.

Environmental experts and officials have warned that mass tourism is causing irreversible damage to beautiful beaches, with litter and unchecked development disrupting local ecosystems.

Smoking has already been banned on 20 of the country's most famous beaches this high season, with a fine or even jail for those who flout the new rule.

Leonardo DiCaprio played the lead in "The Beach", a Danny Boyle-directed adaptation of Alex Garland's classic backpacker novel of the same name.