Last month’s order to close Chonburi’s beaches not only helped suppress the number of reported Covid-19 cases in the province, but also helped restore Pattaya’s oft-maligned beaches.
Jomtien Beach used to welcome huge numbers of tourists from all around the world every year. Today they are blocked with multi-lingual tape and barricades, with promises from Pattaya Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome to vigorously patrol the shoreline to keep beyond out.
While both Thais and expats have bemoaned and criticized the closure as overkill when Pattaya hasn’t seen a coronavirus case in weeks, it has given Jomtien a much-needed breather after decades of overuse and abuse by visitors, speedboats and jet skis. City sanitation workers every day had to pick up mountains of trash, mostly plastic utensils, glass bottles, paper dishes, straws, rubber sandals, nylon ropes, broken glass and cigarette butts.
Now it’s the birds doing the picking of food from the sand and small sea creatures like crabs and shrimp making appearances for the first time in memory.
May has had some of the hottest days so far this year. Normally Jomtien would have seen the sand filled with sun worshippers and swimmers eager to cool off. Instead, these days Jomtien’s empty expanse never looked as beautiful, with sunlight streaking the entire stretch of shoreline, bleaching the undisturbed sand whiter than any time in memory.
Nature’s return during the absence of humans has been remarkable around the globe, with monkeys reclaiming streets in Lopburi, bears wandering into abandoned Yosemite Park towns in the U.S. and deer strolling through Tokyo.
It shouldn’t then have been a surprise to the Ministry of Natural Resources that once you remove the infestation of the human virus, damaged parts of the earth would heal. But surprised they were, so much that ministry officials are talking about closing nature reserves and islands for three months a year to recover from human abuse and neglect. The first step came Sunday with the announcement that the closure of Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands will be extended due to the miraculous-looking recovery there of coral killed by over-tourism.
While both over-run by tourism and industry, Chonburi nonetheless still has places that could benefit from such a break, such as Koh Larn, the Khao Kheow Open Zoo, and the scattered islands of Sattahip Bay, which see many scuba divers each year. One could even extend that list to include beaches in Jomtien, Bangsaen, Samae in Sattahip and even Pattaya.
While humanity has paid a large price during the coronavirus pandemic, it has also repaid some of its debt to the environment.