Their very geographical nature makes islands particularly prone to overcrowding – simply put, there’s not enough room for endless streams of tourists. Here are some of the most worrying examples of islands, many of which were once untouched, falling victim to their own popularity.
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Twenty years ago this little archipelago in the Andaman Sea really was paradise – and practically unknown – making it the perfect filming location for the big screen adaptation of The Beach, Alex Garland’s novel about the search for untouched backpacker heaven. Now as many as 5,000 people arrive each day on boat trips from the bustling mainland resorts of Krabi and Phuket, turning Maya Bay, the sheltered cove where much of the movie takes place, into a selfie-taking free-for-all. The situation has become so bad that Thai authorities recently announced plans to completely close maya Bay for four months this time (June 1 until September 30) to give the surrounding coral reef a chance to recover.
The tactic has been used on other Thai beaches but this will be the first time that Maya Bay is closed to travellers. “Parts of the Similans and Surin islands have been closed in the past to let the corals recover, but this is a first for Maya Bay,” explained Lee Cobaj, Telegraph Travel’s Thailand expert. “The closure will be in the middle of low season, when rain is pretty persistent, so I can’t imagine too many tourists will be turned away. But the beach is stupidly busy in high season so it’s good to see Thailand putting nature ahead of profits for once.”
Back when Leo was finding fame in Danny Boyle’s film, Thailand was still considered fairly “off the beaten track”. These days that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Last year 35.4m people visited the country, up from 5.3m in 1990. That’s a lot of unspoiled islands turning into tourists traps (like Ko Phangan, where an airport is currently under construction).
And further growth is expected. In 2018, Thailand is predicting 37.6m tourists will visit.