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PHUKET OPINION: Opening the door to devastation

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PHUKET OPINION: Opening the door to devastation | Thaiger

PHUKET: A special notification issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in July to break the impasse over the proposed Klong Koh Pee Road project will no doubt be treated as great news by the vast majority of Phuket people who work, study or relax at Saphan Hin. (See Governor retires, front page, current issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers may download their copy here.)

But if the measure is exploited by profit-seeking officials and politicians it could spell the final chapter for what remains of Phuket’s once-abundant mangrove forests.

The Klong Koh Pee Road project dates back to 1995, when it was initiated by the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization.

The project’s first Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was rejected by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, which correctly cited the landmark 1991 Cabinet resolution that declared all of Thailand’s remaining mangrove forests “untouchable”.

Four revised EIAs submitted to the agency over the past two years have likewise been returned with requests for “more information”.

These rejections were not without reason. Mangrove conservation, a cause championed by HM The King, is crucial to the protection of the marine environment. Mangroves also provide protection against tsunamis and storm surges, which is particularly important at Saphan Hin, home to a huge landfill just above sea level that continues to grow at a rate of 250 tons a day.

It is also an area that is already facing serious erosion problems during the monthly peak tides, as residents of the nearby Haad Saen Suk community strongly attest.

Bulldozing the mangroves there and laying down a bituminous barrier to drainage is just asking for more trouble.

The Klong Koh Pee drainage basin has already experienced one ecological disaster: the June 2007 release of a toxic plume from the landfill into local waterways that killed entire stocks of farmed fish.

The latest road design, which would include an elevated section to minimize damage to drainage and mangroves, seems a sensible solution. But it will not come cheap, and whether the central government will provide the estimated 185-million-baht in funding is another issue altogether.

The biggest fear is that the new measure, which applies only to Phuket, will result in a renewed assault on the island’s mangroves.

Local administrative bodies have had an abysmal record at preventing encroachment in mangrove forest reserves over the years.

The fact that the door is now open for these bodies to get into the business of mangrove destruction themselves does not bode well for the future of these irreplaceable natural assets.

 

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