PHUKET CITY: About 40 people from six villages in Tambon Pa Khlok protested at Phuket Provincial Hall this morning about damage to coral in Ao Por caused, they said, by Italian Thai Development Co, which is constructing a 95-million-baht marina in the bay.
The villagers presented an official letter of complaint about work on the project, which they said is damaging healthy coral beds and thereby threatening the fishing industry on which they depend.
The Governor was at a meeting at The Metropole hotel when the protesters arrived, so they were received by Phuket Chief Administrative Assistant (Palad) Nivit Aroonrat.
A member of the Phuket Local Fishermen’s Association read out the protest letter before handing it to K. Nivit. The protesters dispersed after he promised to pass it to the Governor and to investigate charges that the construction work was damaging coral.
K. Nivit told reporters he would send out divers to check whether there was healthy coral in the area.
“If the coral is already dead, then work on the project should continue. The head of the Marine Office told me there was no healthy coral in the area, but we will send out divers on Tuesday to reconfirm this,” he said.
Phuket Marine Office Chief Surin Tirakulpisut said he himself took part in a dive in the area, after construction began, as part of a review of the project’s Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) and could confirm that the state of the coral in the area matched the description in the IEE.
“About 4% to 5% of the construction area is covered with dead coral, as stated in the IEE. It’s normal when they have to dredge out a shallow area. I can’t block this project – it’s all been done according to procedure, and has been approved by the IEE committee,” he said.
Photos of healthy coral presented by the protesters must have been taken outside the construction area, he said.
However, Rattanaporn Jaengjaidee, an adviser to the Fishermen’s Association, took issue with statements that all the coral in the area was dead, citing what she said was a February 8 report from the Phuket Marine Biological Center stating that there is still “plenty” of live coral in the construction area.
She said that the decision to approve the project was based on IEEs conducted 10 years ago. “But the coral has grown back [since then] and is more plentiful than before,” she said.
K. Rattanaporn told the Gazette that the protest was sparked by comments made by Gov Udomsak to the Thai-language daily newspaper Khao Sod.
“He said that the coral reefs in the construction area were all degraded, so it would be better to dig them out and build a marina that would make money.
“The villagers can’t accept this because they think it shows that the Governor doesn’t care about their livelihoods. They have always been able make a living in the area,” she said.
“The Ao Por people don’t expect to halt the project; they just want the remaining coral to be protected and they want the Governor to give as much consideration to their interests as he does to those of a big company.”
The planned marina would have space for 100 yachts to tie up, be serviced and get fuel. The project began about 15 months ago and is scheduled to be complete by the middle of this year.
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