On any given day in Thailand’s Maya Bay, up to 40 blacktip reef sharks cruise in the shallows while about 4,000 tourists visit its white-sand beach flanked by towering cliffs.
Shark numbers have improved since almost every last one was driven from the bay by the influx of tour boats and tourists keen to see the uninhabited idyll that was made even more famous as the set of Leonardo Di Caprio’s 2000 thriller “The Beach”.
The sharks returned after a tourism ban and the pandemic between 2018 and 2022 halted all visitors to the bay.
Authorities allowed limited tourism to resume in 2022, and now conservationists say shark numbers are thinning out again, leaving Maya Bay struggling to strike a balance between preserving a pristine ecosystem and sustaining livelihoods dependent on tourism.
Maya Bay lies on Phi Phi Leh Island, located in the Andaman Sea off Thailand’s west coast.
Marine researcher Metavee Chuangcharoendee said that thanks to the pause in tourism the island was once again functioning as a nursery for young sharks.
Blacktips, named after the distinctive black coloring on their dorsal fins and tails, roam the Andaman Sea and other tropical regions in decreasing numbers due to overfishing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Metavee noted that a number of factors affect the sharks around Phi Phi Leh Island, including seasonal movement patterns and human activity like fishing.
However, with the number of sharks already dwindling, authorities and conservationists are intent on keeping tourists from swimming in the bay and driving away the baby sharks, which hide in the shallows and coral reefs from the cannibalistic adults. (NNT)