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The Riddle of Phuket’s Black Sands

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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The Riddle of Phuket’s Black Sands | The Thaiger

SPECIAL REPORT

The Phuket Gazette investigates a reader’s inquiry into why much of the sand at Laem Panwa Beach is black – and why it sticks to anything metal. The Gazette‘s Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai, Stephen Fein and Chutharat Plerin report.

PHUKET: The west coast beaches of Phuket attract millions of tourists annually, but there is only one beach on the island that is truly magnetic: the black sands that line Makham Bay, off Cape Panwa in Wichit.

A concerned reader alerted the Gazette to the situation in April, after he took a few buckets of the black sand home thinking it would add a cool new look in his home aquarium.

Soon after buying a light-blue shrimp and placing it in the aquarium it turned dark brown. Later, when he accidentally dropped a magnetic algae scraper into the tank, he found it created chaos in the aquarium – the “gravel” leapt onto the magnets.

The reader, who initially thought the black sand was a wholly natural phenomenon like the basaltic black sand beaches in Hawaii, contacted the Gazette wondering what the strange black sand consisted of and, more importantly, whether it was as harmful to humans as it seemed to be the shrimp.

Noting that even images provided by Google Earth showed that the mystery sand was clearly visible offshore in black bands, he feared that it could be some kind of dangerous heavy metal that reacts in water and accumulates up the food chain to concentrations that can be toxic to humans – such as lead.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

The Gazette contacted representatives of Thaisarco, which operates a large tin smelter at the north end of the bay, to see if they were responsible for the black sand or could shed any light on the subject.

Their representative noted that the black sediments dated back to the island’s tin-mining days, when the landscape in and around Ao Makham was extensively transformed. There are similar deposits at other beaches in Phuket, including some in Cherng Talay, they said.

Local residents in the area confirmed the age of the deposits, saying that they had been there for as long as anyone could remember – well before the Thaisarco smelter opened in 1963.

Phuket Provincial Industry Office Inspector Charan Nongsook concurred.

“The black beach at Cape Panwa is a unique feature of the area. It has nothing to do with Thaisarco. Decades ago there was an ore-processing operation in the area, with local residents panning for [tin] there as well. The small black pieces mixed with the sand are ore cinders,” he said.

Geologist Umpai Thongpinyochai, of the Phuket Office of Primary Industries and Mines, explained, “Since Phuket was extensively mined for tin in the past, there were many ‘placer deposits’ or secondary minerals, left in the area.

“These kind of secondary minerals were all originally mixed together with the stone when it was mined.”

When the stone was broken down by mechanical processes to extract the tin, the “placer deposits” were those unwanted elements separated out as sediments by gravity.

“When they mined for tin back then, they extracted the tin only and threw away whatever was left.

“The remainder, collectively called ‘ore cinder’, typically comprised many different kinds of ores,” she said.

STICKING POINT

Krit Promsorn, another expert at the Primary Industries and Mines Phuket office, examined a sample of the deposits provided by the Gazette and gave his explanation as to how they most likely ended up on the beach – and why they were magnetic.

“From a preliminary visual examination of the sample and the background of the Ao Makham area, I would say the black deposits mixed up with the sand are magnetite. This is a ferrimagnetic mineral with chemical formula Fe3O4. It is one of several iron oxides and a member of the spinel group,” he explained.

“After extracting the tin, they just dumped the magnetite because it did not have any economic value,” he explained.

“Back in those days, tin miners would take a boat called a ‘sledge’ just offshore and dig up deposits from beneath the sand. They kept only what they were looking for, dumping everything else overboard. Over time, these deposits could have migrated ashore from wave action.

“But from the look of this beach, I have a feeling they were not just swept ashore by currents or waves, but rather were dumped directly on the shoreline. Operations that conduct themselves like this would be illegal today. They would never be permitted because they could harm the environment,” Mr Krit said.

“The economy of Phuket back then didn’t rely on tourism like it does now, and there was no Thai Industrial Standards Institute to regulate the tin-mining industry. So what we are seeing now is a legacy from the past,” he added.

“No one can fix all the mistakes of the past. The best we can hope for is to mitigate the environmental impacts and ensure that such negligent business practices are never allowed to happen again,” he said.

CLEAN BILL

Ms Umpai said that despite their magnetic properties, the black ores of Ao Makham were most likely harmless to humans who come into normal contact with them.

“It doesn’t have any serious negative affects on the biosphere and isn’t toxic to humans. One ore that is potentially toxic to humans is Arsenopyrite, which [can oxidize to produce] arsenious acid,” she said.

“But what I have seen at the beach appears to be just magnetite. We could run a laboratory test to confirm whether or not there is any arsenopyrite ore mixed in with the sand, but I suspect the results would be negative.

“Arsenopyrite ore is yellow and smells strongly of hydrogen sulfide. We can easily spot it, even without scientific testing. But the ore found on the beach is black and shiny,” she said.

Madusop Rakharb, a 65-year-old retired resident of the area, agreed that the black sediments were harmless ore cinder. While few foreign tourists visited the beach, it is still sometimes used by local residents as a picnic spot, he said.

“We do not have any problems with the ore cinder on the beach. It is a natural thing in our area, the same as normal beach sand except for the color,” he said.

The Phuket Gazette would like to thank the reader, who asked not to be named, for bringing the issue of the black sands to our attention. Click here to see our related editorial column.

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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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Crime

Mystery surrounds security guard found dead in his Phuket room

The Thaiger

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Mystery surrounds security guard found dead in his Phuket room | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Phuket Hot News

The security guard of a hotel in Nai Yang, northern Phuket, 52 year old Yingyot Butsabong, from Maha Sarakham province, was found dead yesterday (October 16) in his room. Police remain mystified how the man came to grief.

A woman named Supattra received a call from the hotel he worked at and was informed that he didn’t show up at work yesterday, so she went to his apartment to check on him.

She saw that his room was locked from the inside, so used the key she had in her possession to open the room and found Yingyot laying on the floor, face down. She thought he was just sleeping so she tried to wake him up but once she flipped him, she found that he already passed away.

She immediately called Saku police, and once on the scene, police found that there was some blood on the floor. The man had a 2 centimetre wound on his left eyebrow which was deep into his skull. There was also a wound on his chin about 1 centimetre long and about a centimetre deep. His left eye had a bruise which looked like he was attacked by a hard object.

Police report that he had been dead for around four hours in the room.

The room was not ransacked and there was no sign of fighting or theft. His body has been sent to Thalang Hospital for a detailed autopsy and to look into the cause of death.

SOURCE: Phuket Hot News

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People

‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people

Nattha Thepbamrung

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‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people | The Thaiger

On October 18, the ‘Always Smile Journey’ group and its partners will host an exhibition with plenty of fun activities at the Yak Yai Market, near Chalong Circle, in Phuket. This event was designed to raise funds to provide free English classes for underprivileged people on the island of Phuket on Saturdays and Sundays. The group does not accept donations but aims to raise money through the sales of the products available at the event.

‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people | News by The Thaiger

From 2 pm to 8 pm, there will be a number of artists, musicians and performers who will keep the attendees entertained along the way. There will be a short film about His Majesty King Rama 9 as well as fun activities and games for kids and families, which are all free of charge.

The big bike crew is also a part of this event. They will ride a parade from Rawai Beach heading to the market and showcase their gorgeous two-wheel buddies.

One of the highlights of the Always Smile Journey exhibition is the ‘Happening’ artists group, who will draw and paint a picture of the His Majesty King Rama 9 under the name ‘Street Art King Bhumibol’ on a 4×10 meter sign live at the event so the guests will experience this large-scale art in action. The Happening will also offer portrait sketching for the participants.

‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people | News by The Thaiger

One of the works created by the Happening team; a painting of HM the King Rama 9 on a huge wall (Photo credit: Chawat Chumpasan)

There will also be some western menus available at the event which will be donated to underprivileged children.

This free English class project has over seven years of experience through its cooperation working with individuals and other charity organizations. Throughout the years, the group visited several areas such as Ban Laem Hoy School, Ban Bopud School and Ban Angthong School in Samui, Surat Thani province, Ban Bueng Ao Oun School and Ban Kakoh Rayong, in Surin province, Jalae Village of Lahu (Muser) in Chiang Rai province, as well as community education centers in Siem Reap, Cambodia and in Luang Prabang, in Laos.

This event is a cooperation between several groups, including Happening, Yak Yai Market and Arrow Media, Tattoo artist group, Thonburi Art School Alumni, International School of Tourism, Suratthani Rajabhat University, big bike group from Phuket, artists/performers/musicians from many provinces as well as several businesses across Phuket.

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Bangkok

The world’s fastest growing tourist destinations

The Thaiger

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The world’s fastest growing tourist destinations | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Hello Phuket – destined for huge tourist growth in the next six years – fodors.com

In 2018, international tourist arrival traffic grew by 6% to reach a total of 1.4 billion world tourists, according to research by UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. And there’s a lot more to come with international travel predicted to increase by a massive 35% over the next six years to 2025.

But where is all that extra traffic going to go? Which destinations are quiet now that might be swarming with tourists in the years to come? Two destinations in Thailand are set for a prosperous future, according to the data. Whilst almost all the growth is excepted to be to Asian destinations, an under-visited resource for world tourism so far.

Euromonitor data has been used to simulate tourist growth models and reveal the fastest growing projected visitor arrivals in major cities and destinations around the world for 2025, compared to arrival figures in 2018.

In Thailand, Phuket’s tourist traffic is poised to increase up to 85% in the next six years, from nearly 12 million arrivals in 2018 to over 22 million in 2025. Bangkok is predicted to see the 8th most prolific rise in tourist traffic, with arrivals in Bangkok set to swell an additional 68% during the same period. Doha, the capital of Qatar, is set to explode with 104% increase in traffic over the next six years.

The data also predicts that both Bangkok and Phuket will rebound big time in 2020, Phuket in particular with a growth of around 20% for the next year, accord to the data from TravelSupermarket.com.

By 2025 the data predicts that Bangkok will be the world’s #1 tourist destination, a position it’s held before in recent years. The Thai capital will be followed by Singapore, Dubai, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur, making South East Asia the world’s emerging tourism hotspot.

Some of the world’s favourites – New York, Paris, London – will continue to grow their tourist numbers but not at the rate of most Asian destinations.

You can read the full list HERE.

The world's fastest growing tourist destinations | News by The Thaiger

Stats compiled by travelsupermarket.com

The world's fastest growing tourist destinations | News by The Thaiger

Stats compiled by travelsupermarket.com

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