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Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 15:13 GMT
Fears for DiCaprio's Beach
Damaged trees on Maya Bay, November 1999
November 1999: Trees hang upside down on Maya Bay
Leonardo DiCaprio's latest film, The Beach, is set to make millions of dollars for Hollywood - but locals on the Thai island where it was filmed are still worried about its impact on their environment.

In January 1999, a crew from 20th Century Fox took over Maya Bay, on Phi Phi Le island, to shoot part of the film, based on the novel by British author Alex Garland.

A local at Maya Bay
A local rests on the beach
The film-makers, led by director Danny Boyle and producer Andrew Macdonald, got permission from the country's forestry department to flatten the beach and strip away much of the native vegetation to turn Maya Bay into the fantasy beach depicted in Garland's novel.

But although Fox promised to restore the beach once filming had been completed, locals were outraged, as were environmental activists who had seen Phi Phi Le's neighbouring islands blighted by development.

They succeded in getting the number of coconut trees - a non-indigenous species - planted by the film-makers reduced from 100 to 60, though attempts to get legal restrictions on filming failed.

Beach erosion

When the crew left, stakes were set in the sand in an effort to prevent erosion. But when last year's monsoon season ended, more sand than anyone could remember had been washed away.
Tourist on Maya Bay
Phi Phi Island is a popular tourist location
Environmental activists have now brought a 1.6m lawsuit against Fox, the forestry department and Thailand's agriculture ministry for the damage to the beach.

It is the first time in Thailand's history such a case has been brought by ordinary citizens against the government.

The case started in November, but given the traditionally slow pace of Thailand's legal system, the case could go on for years.

Tourist attraction

The activists' anger increased when local tourism officials - eager to cash in on the publicity - started giving travel agents free tickets to Thailand for so-called "DiCaprio tours".


Maya Bay is falling apart in front of us. Who wants to visit an eroding beach?

Local boatman Surat Saewkok
Local council member Prasertpongse Sornuwat said: "Their campaign is about greed, not reality. There is no beautiful beach anymore. They just want to cash in on the movie, with no concern about environmental impact."

He added that he is getting "close to 30 signatures a day" from tourists who are promising to boycott the movie "because it was made by damaging the environment of the island".

Ecologists fear the damage to Maya Bay may continue. Loosened sand could damage coral reefs on the beach front - threatening the livelihoods of the boatmen who bring sunbathers to the beauty spot.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach
Leonardo DiCaprio: Phi Phi Le's new ambassador
One, Surat Saewkok, said: "Maya Bay is falling apart in front of us. Who wants to visit an eroding beach?

"The film people are all gone and are going to make money selling their movie, but villagers here are paying the price."

Cinema owners in Thailand are already plastering their premises with posters of DiCaprio in anticipation of the film's release in the country next month.

Demonstrations

They could be in for a rough ride from protesters - activists demonstrated outside last week's Hollywood premiere of the film, as well as Wednesday's London screening.

A 20th Century Fox lawyer said the film-makers took every precaution possible, and the severe erosion was caused by unusually heavy storms.

Dusit Walee said: "We only need to give the beach time to recover on its own. I'm sure the claim is groundless."

The studio has also said it is continuing to monitor the situation at Maya Bay.

The Beach opens in the UK and US on Friday.

See also:

10 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Film review: The Beach
10 Feb 00 | Entertainment
DiCaprio mania hits London
10 Feb 00 | Entertainment
In Pictures: The Beach premiere
18 Jan 99 | Entertainment
DiCaprio tries to calm Beach storm
19 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
DiCaprio film trial begins
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