As competition heats up in the bid to be the 'shooting capital of Asia', and despite expected protests from environmentalists, Thai authorities have gone ahead and approved the filming of CBS' high profile reality TV program Survivor on Tarutao, a pristine southern island.

According to the Thai Film Office (TFO), some 150 foreign feature films, commercials and documentaries have been shot in Thailand so far this year, 41 of which took place in protected areas.

The shooting 'is closely monitored and observed by the Royal Forest Department. Forest officials are with them all the time, everyday,' says TFO director Sidhichai Jayant. 'We haven't had any problems, which proves we are doing a good job.'

The income from Survivor - reportedly $4.55m for the 40-day shoot, compared to a total income of $29m from 435 foreign films last year - is not to be scoffed at.

Meanwhile, competition from other territories the region is fierce. 'Malaysia is doing its best to promote itself as an international filming hub. Singapore is also trying and Vietnam is doing its job very well,' says Mr Sidhichai. Most recently, and despite security problems, the Philippines is also getting in on the act, wooing Hollywood studios - with some success - to jack up economic growth.

'What we have (to offer) is not the same as what they have. We have our forest reserves and we can use these resources without damaging them' says Mr Sidhichai.

Last week, The Mandalay Pictures' film Beyond Borders began shooting in another protected area in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai. Producer Lloyd Phillips said: 'We are aware about the issues that occurred when The Beach was shot here, so we have worked closely with forestry officials and the government'.

When Hollywood blockbuster The Beach was filmed on Phi Phi island in 1999, environmental groups accused the producers of causing massive environmental damage and of disrupting the region's ecological system. The producers of the film are due to return to court next month to face the allegations.

'We have learnt a lot since 'The Beach',' says Mr Sidhichai.