Supreme Court orders Forestry Dept to restore Maya Bay

Supreme Court orders Forestry Dept to restore Maya Bay

Damaged during filming of "The Beach" 24 years ago

Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi in Krabi province in June 2018 (Photo: Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park)
Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi in Krabi province in June 2018 (Photo: Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park)

The Supreme Court had ordered the Forestry Department to restore Maya Bay, which was environmentally damaged during the shooting of the famed Hollywood movie "The Beach" 24 years ago.

The ruling was read out at the Civil Court on Tuesday.

"The Beach", starring Leonardo diCaprio, was filmed in Thailand in 1998 with the majority of the shooting on Maya Bay Beach, amid allegations of ecological vandalism when imported palms were planted to make the "perfect" beach even more perfect. The area was later also damaged by the tsunami of 2004. 

Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling followed earlier rulings by the lower courts.

The Krabi Provincial Administration Organisation, Muang district of Krabi province and 17 other plaintiffs initially filed suit with the Civil Court handling environmental cases against the agriculture minister at the time, the Forestry Department, then Forestry Department chief at the time, Thai agent Santa International Film Production and the film maker Twentieth Century Fox Co, as first to fifth defendants respectively, for violations of the National Park Act and the National Environmental Quality Act 

In 1998, authorities had approved the re-landscaping of Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, which was within Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park in Krabi, for the shooting of "The Beach". This prompted the plaintiffs to file suit against those involved.

The plaintiffs asked the court to nullify the orders issued by the first, second and third defendants, which allowed the fourth defendant to shoot the film, and order the company to jointly place money as a guarantee for restoration of damage to the environment. 

Unless the guaranteed money was put, the plaintiffs asked the court to order the first to third defendants to revoke the permit given to the fourth and fifth defendants to shoot the film. The suit also called for restoration of Maya Bay. 

The lower court ruling ordered the Forestry Department, which was the second defendant, to restore Maya Bay to its natural state. The court also ordered the second defendant to set up a working panel to draw up a rehabilitation plan of Maya Bay and sustainable use of areas around the bay.

The working panel, comprising the first and second plaintiffs, experts appointed by the court and representatives from the private sector chosen by the second defendant, was to be set up within 30 days of the ruling being made. 

The court ordered the fourth and fifth defendants to be responsible for implementing a compromise agreement dated Feb 27, 2019. Under the agreement, the fifth defendant agreed to give 10 million baht for natural conservation so that the first and second plaintiffs could use the money for natural conservation in line with their authority. The first defendant would update the court every year on the progress of the work, for three consecutive years or until the money was spent.

The lower court acquitted the first and third defendants. The defendants appealed to the Appeal Court handling environmental cases asking for acquittal of the second defendant too. 

Later, the first and second plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court found the plaintiffs’ appeal was partially sound. It ruled to uphold the lower court ruling for the second defendant to restore Maya beach. The second defendant was ordered to comply with the Supreme Court judgement within 30 days.

The second defendant is the Forestry Department.

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