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Thailand The Beach

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One of Thailand's beloved beaches is temporarily closing in a move to reverse decades of environmental damage.

Officials ordered on Wednesday that Maya Beach, which initially got its claim to fame with Leonardo DiCaprio's film "The Beach" in 2000, be closed for four months beginning in June.

"If you asked if it is too late to save our islands, the answer is no. But if we don't do something today, it will be too late."
Thanya Netithammakum, head of Thailand's National Parks and Wildlife

Authorities said they made the decision after reporting noticeable environmental damage on the island brought upon a booming tourism industry. In 2017 alone, the island welcomed about 35 million tourists in 2017, according to local reports. That's expected to increase even more in 2018 to about 38 million.

And though the tourism industry in Thailand serves as a great source of revenue--about 20 percent of the country's GDP--it's coming at the expense of coral reefs and sea life, particularly on the islands. Thom Thamrongnawasawat, a Thai marine biologist, was shocked to discover that 77 percent of coral reefs in Thailand have been destroyed--an alarming increase from 30 percent just a decade ago.

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He said, "I have always dreamt that one day we could work to bring her back to life. I have been following nd working on Maya Bay for more than 30 years. I had seen it when it was a heaven and I see it when it has nothing left. Anything that we can do to bring this paradise back to Thailand is the dream of a marine biologist."

Experts agree that most of the damage is caused by pollution from beach front hotels and boats, though plastic debris is also a concern.

"Coral reefs have been degraded by warmer seas and overcrowding. Sometimes, a complete closure is the only way for nature to heal," Thamrongnawasawat told the Thomas Reuters Foundation.

This isn't the first time Thailand has attempted to save at-risk ecosystems. The government closed a few islands in 2016, but blocked off access to dozens of dive sites in 2011. And, it turns out, neighboring countries are dealing with similar issues. The island of Boracay in the Phillippines will be inaccessible to visitors for six months starting at the end of April.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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