June 5, 2005
Koh Chang’s marine ecosystem is deteriorating from wastewater
At a distance, Koh Chang looks virgin and calm. Taking a closer look, the surroundings look messy and polluted.
Garbage is piling up on the hillside and along the road. Wastewater is being discharged from hotels and construction sites to the seashore, where tourists sunbathe and swim. The 70km road, the only main road on this resort island, is in terrible condition. Without street lights, the number of road accidents continues to rise.
Public areas are littered by shabby makeshift camps of immigrant construction workers, while mushrooming beer bars and karaoke cubicles are ruining the night-time peace. “We are confronted with all kinds of problems. I have no idea how this island could be developed into a ‘tropical paradise’ with all this mess,” said a tourism operator.
Garbage disposal and wastewater discharge were the most serious threats to the island, said Suksun Pengdith, coordinator of the Designated Area for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta), a focal point for the Koh Chang development scheme. Koh Chang, one of Thailand’s top tourist destinations, has neither a garbage disposal plant nor wastewater treatment plant at the moment. The 429 sq km archipelago is home to 5,000 villagers and 30,000 non-native residents. It receives about 780,000 tourists each year. Koh Chang alone generates eight tonnes of garbage a day. The rubbish is transported and buried in temporary landfills in protected forest areas or dumped on public land, including a Buddhist temple ground.
Dasta’s 50-million-baht garbage disposal plant has been delayed as the agency can’t afford the land for the construction site. With the consent of the Mu Koh Chang National Park, the plant is being built on a 25-rai area in the park, Mr Suksun said.
When complete at the end of the year, the plant which is run by Pairote Sompong Panich Co will reduce the amount of garbage through recycling and fertiliser production by 80 per cent. The non-recyclable stuff would be shipped to a garbage landfill on Trat’s mainland.
Some Koh Chang residents, however, are upset with the choice of site, saying it it is too close to the community which will be affected by foul odour, rubbish transportation, and noisy operations.
Mr Suksun, however, argued the site was the most appropriate because it is between residential areas and tourist accommodation zones. The location would make it easy to collect and transport rubbish. He said he was more worried about the increasing volume of garbage.
“The waste problem is unlikely to end even if we have the plant because the volume has drastically increased as a result of the tourist influx and increasing amount of construction work,” he said. “Getting residents and tourists to cut down on the amount of waste they produce is the only means to solve the problem.”
Mr Suksun said the agency was also seeking sites for its five wastewater treatment plants to cope with discharge of sewage from resorts and households to the sea. Kasetsart University’s faculty of fisheries recently tested the sea water quality at Hat Sai Khao and Bang Bao, the island’s famous beaches, and found excessive levels of sediment and E. coli, a type of bacteria living in human waste, in sea water.
“Koh Chang’s marine ecosystem is deteriorating from wastewater. The problem will also have an adverse effect on tourism soon,” said Mr Suksun. Ruwat Kitwirat, assistant chairman of Koh Chang Tambon Administration Organisation, conceded the TAO had failed to force hotel and resort operators to treat wastewater before discharging it into the environment. Each hotel and resort in tambon Koh Chang has its own wastewater treatment unit, as the TAO demanded, he said, adding the TAO would not grant construction permits to hotel developers if there was no sewage treatment plant in the construction plan.
“But the hotels and resorts sometimes switch off the wastewater treatment machine to save costs,” he said.
Another serious problem for the resort island is an electricity overload.
Koh Chang relies on electricity supply from the Provincial Electricity Authority’s Chon Buri and Trat stations. The electricity is sent to the island via a 200-million-baht submarine cable. According to the PEA, daily electricity consumption on Koh Chang over the past few years has exceeded the annual peak load projection.
The peak load of electricity in 2004 was 4.4 megawatts, exceeding projected figures of 3.7mw. This year, the peak load was projected at 4.4mw, but the real figure has already jumped to 8.8mw.
“Electricity demand on Koh Chang grows at a rate of 2mw per year. Unless this trend is averted, it is very likely Koh Chang residents will suffer an electricity shortage soon,” said Narongsak Kamales, director of PEA’s Chon Buri branch.
Never seen any unrecyclable garbage being shipped to the mainland. And you still wouldn’t want to swim near Bangbao village or the built up area of White Sand Beach during high season. but the electricity problem seems to be solved, new power lines were put in last year.