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Phuket disgrace: plastic pollution in the Andaman

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket disgrace: plastic pollution in the Andaman | The Thaiger

PHUKET: My concerns over plastic pollution were stimulated anew by an excellent analysis in the China Daily called ‘Drowning in Plastic’, and also by the cover story in a recent edition of the Phuket Gazette in which a seasoned local fisherman expressed surprise at the decline in fish catches in our seas.

The main contributor to that story – the president of the Phuket Fishing Association – believed the weather to be the principal factor in fish depopulation, as well as “restrictions on fishermen”. Both analyses are very questionable. The source also blamed “pollution and waste… from hotels” that was more to the point. But the ‘P-word’ was never mentioned in his analysis.

Anyone interested in ecological issues knows that the principal culprits for the catastrophic decline in marine life in Thailand are the triple evils of over-fishing, including poaching; inadequate regulation of the industry at all levels, including human rights issues and abuses; and pollution.

For decades, weighted trawl nets have scoured the shallow bottom of the Andaman Sea, removing not only entire colonies of fish, but all its benthic life, including deep-water coral, sea grass and bottom feeding molluscs and crustaceans. There has been no effective control over net mesh sizes, hence the sad mountains of tiny fish in markets – evidence that the next piscine generation has already gone the way of all flesh.

As for marine pollution, it is daily becoming an issue in Phuket, with inadequate waste disposal systems chucking thousands of tons of raw sewage into the sea.

On neighboring Phi Phi Island, there is no sewage plant at all. Apparently one would cost 300 million baht, and the island, despite its huge revenue from tourism, cannot stump up the money.

A shocking 83 per cent of liquid waste is discharged straight into the sea. “Our only hope is that hotels, restaurants and other businesses act responsibly,” declared Punkum Kittithonkun, president of the Ao Nang OrBorTor on April 10.

Most of the coral in the Andaman Sea has already gone. Add land run-off, where 95 per cent of Phuket’s agricultural pesticides and herbicides end up, and it’s easy to be frightened about what we’re doing to that vast sink we call the ocean.

Mangrove swamps, which used to fringe most of Phuket and its surrounding islands, act not only as nurseries for most species of marine fish, but as giant filters for effluence. They are literally losing ground to developers.

Among many others, current cases concern several marinas here in Phuket and in Krabi, where one of them is alleged to have widened a klong (canal) through the mangroves from three to 50 meters. Imagine how many trees have perished.

Effluents themselves have a profound effect on oxygen levels, and all aspects of ocean life. Increasingly in Phuket, we are getting jellyfish warnings – Surin Beach just last week was warned of several sightings of Portuguese Man O’War. Apart from delivering nasty stings, jellyfish are potent enemies of our environment, devouring plankton, fish eggs and small fish. The blow to plankton alone should be alarming, as the tiny collective organisms do more than anything else to sequester carbon and produce oxygen – a life-support system for everyone on the planet.

This brings us to the ‘P-word’. Plastic pollutants are one of the biggest problems, not just in Thailand, but worldwide.

By 2050, says a reputable UK organization, the oceans will be “expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight).”

A report by the American environmental group ‘Stemming the Tide’ identified five countries – all Asian and including Thailand – that contribute between “55 and 60 per cent” of all plastic found in our oceans. Ninety per cent of all plastic that is produced annually is thrown away.

Ironically, the fishing industry in Phuket is one of the worst local offenders. All the garbage from these boats is simply jettisoned overboard.

On ‘International Coastal Cleanup Day’, the most frequent beach litter and sea pollutants – all plastic – were reported as follows: over 1,000,000 food containers, 1,000,000 drink bottles, and 1,000,000 bags. Caps and lids came in at 690,000, straws and stirrers at over 600,000 items.

A recent study concluded that 8 million tons of plastic waste flow into our oceans every year, enough to cover one foot of every coastline in the world.

A University of California study recently showed that fish in the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year. Oceanographer Erik Van Sebille, from London’s Imperial College, concurs: “There is so much plastic in marine animals at the moment. In almost every fish and bird that is cut open for science, we find plastic.”

So what, as concerned individuals, can we do to ameliorate this global problem?

The first and most important statement we can make is to reduce our dependence on the stuff. Plastic is one of the main by-products of an affluent society, and developing Thailand is particularly culpable.

Take your own re-usable bag when you shop, avoid plastic cling-film and polystyrene containers for your fried rice and coffee. Use your own mug at Starbucks. And support any initiatives to reduce plastic packaging. Tesco Lotus in Thailand tried and failed, largely for want of public support.

Stop buying water in plastic bottles. Every year, 20 billion are tossed in the trash. If you are worried about the quality of tap water – as you may be in Thailand – consider buying a filtration unit. It will quickly pay for itself.

It is a point almost too obvious to make, but we need to remind ourselves to recycle where and when we can. And it can be done. True, different kinds of plastic complicate matters.

Nonetheless, most kinds are recyclable. And if you don’t trust the refuse truck, then save your cast-offs for the local trash collectors, who will gladly take them on their bulging samlors to a proper disposal facility.

At sea level, there are promising initiatives to skim the plastic from the ocean’s gyres where so much of it ends up. At the end of the day however, prevention is better than cure. We must produce less plastic.

And if we must have plastic, then, for the planet’s sake, don’t manufacture so much of the single-use, disposable stuff. This material is the single largest contributor to marine plastic pollution.

The irony is that such a practical and ubiquitous material invariably outlives its usefulness; in the blink of an eye, plastic has become a massive scourge rather than a benefit.

— Patrick Campbell

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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News

30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.

SOURCE: nationthailand.com

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Patong

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms

The Thaiger

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Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | The Thaiger

by Sophie Deviller

Hotels on Thailand’s most popular holiday island are being forced to slash prices, with rooms left vacant and beaches sparse as Thailand’s tourism chiefs struggle with a plunge in Chinese visitors caused by the US trade war and a stronger baht. Phuket was the most visited destination in the country last year, after Bangkok, and a good gauge of the state of its crucial travel industry.

Tourism accounts for 18% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up more than a quarter of total arrivals. But while 2.2 million people from the country visited in 2018, according to official figures, the numbers for January-September were down almost 20% year on year.

Claude de Crissey, the French Honorary Consul in Phuket and owner of about 40 rooms in the Patong Beach area, says Chinese tourists are usually present even during the current low season.

“That was not the case this year,” he said, adding he had to lower his prices by as much as 50%.

The problem is not only in Phuket, with hotels also struggling to fill rooms in the seaside resort of Pattaya on the mainland and on Koh Samui.

Trade tensions with the US have already made some Chinese reluctant to take holidays owing to uncertainty back home, while the Thai baht has risen about 10% against the yuan this year.

A boating disaster off Phuket’s coast that killed 47 Chinese holidaymakers in July 2018 also scared some off.

“We are worried,” said an industry insider, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic in a country where tourism provides tens of thousands of jobs. Adding to the headache is the fact that more than 3,000 new hotel rooms are being constructed on the island, raising the question of who will fill them.

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

“In terms of business, it’s not good,” said Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, vice-president of the association of hotels in Thailand and director of Vijitt Resort.

“Because … we have more hotels, more rooms to sell, we have more restaurants, more coffee shops.”

Still, tourism authority chairman Yuthasak Supasorn said he remained “optimistic.”

“We should reach our goal of 39.8 million foreign visitors.”

However, that is only up from 38.2 million in 2018, much less than the jump seen from the previous year’s total of 35.6 million.

Counting on India

Now hoteliers and tour package operators are targeting visitors from elsewhere, particularly India, which experts see as a huge untapped market.

A rapid expansion of the middle class in India, increased direct flights and visa-free travel have prompted Thailand to revise forecasts upwards.

It now expects two million Indian tourists this year, after an increase of nearly 25% on-year in the first seven months. But for now, the lower arrivals is evident on the streets of Phuket.

“I’ve never seen anything as bad as what it is at the moment,” said Paul Scott from Australia, who said he has been coming to Thailand for 15 years.

He mainly blamed the stronger baht for the drop-off but also the fact that Thailand wasn’t the untouched vacation paradise it once was. “Now it’s not so new … and it’s not cheap,” he said.

SOURCE: AFP

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

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Events

The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners

The Thaiger

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The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners | The Thaiger

4,000 runners from Thailand and overseas took part in the 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle Fun Run and Half Marathon 2019 yesterday, starting from the Phuket Gateway.

The event is expected to raise 700,000 baht for the charity, now in its 15th year. The money raised goes towards to The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which is committed to protecting the marine and coastal environment, and ecosystems, for the wellbeing of sea turtles that nest in the Mai Khao beach and the surrounding areas.

The annual race also provides funds for thePhuket Marine Biological Centre’s Injured Turtle Rehabilitation Program and The Third NavalArea Command’s Turtle Hatchery Program.

The race was in its 15th year and runners of all ages and abilities took part in the race. The morning’s racing was divided into five categories – the 21.1km half marathon, 10.5km mini- marathon, 5km fun run and 3k family run and VIP participants for all the races. The route of 21.1 kilometre race took runners northwest along the Haad Sai Kaew beach towards Thao Thepkasattri bridge, past the rural road No. 3006, run along the road – Pi Lai viewpoint area returned back along the T. Baan Tha Nun to the iconic Sarasin bridge before finished the half marathon in the Phuket Gateway.

For Mini Marathon 10.5 km – Over all category, Mr. Chinnawat Changlek clocked 39 minutes and 40 seconds to clinch victory in the male half marathon, winning prize money and a trophy with the signature of Phuket’s Governor. The winner in the female mini marathon was Surakarn Wanna with a time of 47 minutes and 47 seconds.

Winners also received a prize gift voucher as well as a medal. Congratulations to all participants.

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