Thailand’s idyllic Phi Phi islands are now facing a drinking water crisis because of a glut of tourists flocking to enjoy the archipelago’s sandy white shores and turquoise waters.
News of the growing water shortage emerged just a few days after environmentalists were celebrating the return of reef sharks in the shallow sea in Maya Bay, a popular holiday destination after it was made famous as the shooting location of 2000 Hollywood blockbuster The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Maya Bay’s small beach on Phi Phi Ley island was closed for four months in June to allow its ecosystem to recover from the destructive impact of being flooded by up to 5,000 tourists and 200 boats a day. In October, the tourist ban was extended to at least a year.
Footage of dozens of reef sharks gliding through the crystal blue waters was viewed as a sign of environmental recovery.
However, the local media reported this week that the Phi Phi islands local authority has now appealed for government help to boost their struggle to find freshwater resources due to overtourism and pollution.
A research team from Thailand’s Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Engineering has discovered that the drinking water shortage on the area’s main Phi Phi Don island is worsening and reaching desperate levels, reported The Nation.
The team found that water sources on the small island are insufficient for the huge volume of visitors, while tap water has become contaminated with waste caused by the overburdened tourist industry.
Sitang Pilailar, the lead researcher revealed that the island has only two significant water-storage facilities, despite its wet climate. The problem has been exacerbated by the influx of tourists during times of low rainfall.
“During the driest period of the year – from November to April – the island is packed with tourists, causing water demand to rise sharply, and meanwhile there’s no rain to refill the two freshwater ponds that are the only sources for piped water on the island,” she told the paper.
The researchers have warned that over-consumption of groundwater could result in saltwater seeping into the system. Of more immediate concern, the study found that groundwater has already been contaminated with harmful pathogens and heavy metals from offshore water pollution.
Phankam Kittithonkul, the island’s administrative chief appealed for help from Thailand’s government. “Many issues are just too big for us to solve alone,” he said.
Ms Sitang suggested that the number of visitors could be capped to prevent overcrowding.
Thailand is not alone in its struggle to balance environmental protection with mass tourism. Earlier this year, the Philippines closed its popular Boracay island for six months to allow a cleanup operation to fix severe sewage problems.
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