The Kingdom of Thailand is a country located at the centre of Southeast Asia that has hundreds of coastal islands both in the Gulf of Thailand and in the Andaman Sea. In Thai, the names of islands are usually preceded with the word Ko or Koh, the Thai word for island. Formerly most of these islands were uninhabited, but in recent times many have been developed as tourist resorts. Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (changwat) and each province is divided into districts (amphoe) that are further divided into sub-districts (tambons). Surat Thani is the largest of the southern provinces on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Samui is one of 19 districts in this province and comprises 7 sub-districts. The complete island is one municipality (tesaban mueang). This case study will concentrate on Koh Samui and in particular the sub-district covering Ang Thong archipelago. Ang Thong means golden bowl, and gave Alex Garland the inspiration for the world famous book and movie ‘The Beach’.
Koh Samui is Thailand’s third largest island, with an area of 228.7 km2 and a permanent population of approximately 55,000. The central part of the island is an almost uninhabitable jungle mountain, Khao Pom, peaking at 635 m. The various lowland areas are connected together by a single 51 km road, running mostly along the coast to encircle the bulk of the island. The old capital is Nathon, on the southwest coast of the island. It remains the major port for fishing and inter-island transportation. Koh Phaluai is the largest of the 42 smaller islands within the Ang Thong Marine National Park. Due south of Ko Wua Talap, where the park office is located, Koh Phaluai’s eastern shore has possibly the best example of mangrove forest to be found in the park and is an important breeding area for hundreds of species of fish. Buddhism is the practiced religion of the residents who number around 430 people and make a living from farming and fishing. Producing coconuts, rubber and a variety of fruits, the island is famous in this region for sun dried mullet and squid.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
In 2010, hotel, tourism and environmental associations on the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao banded together to oppose oil exploration and drilling concessions in waters off their coasts. They formed a new activist organization called Siam Gulf Preservation Network Group that held a ‘Kill the Drill’ protest calling for the government to revoke exploration grants in favour of alternative energy production that would not threaten the islands’ tourist industry. Whilst Samui Service Ltd sell and install low energy systems on Koh Samui, the island for the most part relies on its electricity supply coming via 24 kms of undersea cable from Khanom power plant on the mainland.
The Koh Phaluai Green Island Project emerged from a concept for reducing global warming to honour celebrating the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s coronation and birthday at age 84 on 5 December 2011. The Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE) put together a working plan in co-operation with both public and private organisations like the Community Health Development Agency and the opening ceremony for Thailand’s first low carbon and eco-friendly community took place on 19 February 2011. Amongst the facilities already operational are several wind turbines to reduce dependence on the existing diesel generators and a solar powered fish drying enclosure. Biomass energy resources are promoted in households to replace liquefied petroleum gas such as charcoal from a high efficiency charcoal-making kiln. Biogas from agricultural wastes will be produced, biofuel from palm oil introduced for use by local fishing boats and vehicles replaced by electric motorcycles. Over the longer term, water supply, irrigation, roads, public lighting and other utility infrastructure will all be improved. There are also plans to develop organic farming and produce energy crops.
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
Solid waste management on Samui has been subject to a recent case study. Since 1998, this island has adopted an incineration method to dispose of the waste generated and collected, which mostly comes from the 467 hotels and resorts around the island. The facility is able to burn 140 tons of waste per day. Between 2003 and 2006 the rate of waste has been increasing by approximately 20%. However, between 2006 and 2007, the amount of waste generated had decreased due to the slow down of global economy, which has reduced the number of tourists travelling to Samui. In 2008 the amount of waste had increased by 7.23%. In 2008 the incinerator stopped operating due to a technical problem and didn’t start operating again until 2010. During the breakdown of the incinerator, Samui municipality was disposing solid waste to a sanitary landfill site but this method is not sustainable due to limited land availability.
Figures (2007 data) from the Koh Sumui Green Island Project (see tourism section) indicate 120 tons of rubbish was generated daily on this island. Whilst its refuse facilities can deal with a maximum of 140 tons a day, the quantity of garbage that doesn’t degrade is greater than that of other types. There is also the problem of refuse that is disposed of improperly by burning or dumping in rivers or canals – even into the sea. A Reuse, Recycle, Reduce, Rethink project has now established a system of collecting and sorting rubbish efficiently. Residents separate recyclables into biodegradable bags and leave them on the road making it easier for those earning a supplement to their income to collect. These include but are not limited to plastics, cans, cardboard and glass. Squashing the plastic bottles and aluminium cans enables more to be carried on the side-cart of motorbikes. Tin cans can bring as much as 1 Baht for two cans. Other collectors will gather old electronics and various metals. Hotel workers are recycling kitchen and domestic waste. Used cooking oil is being converted into bio-diesel. The Big C shopping mall is working with Green Roof Project for Princess Pa Foundation to gather beverage containers that contain foil and are then made into roofing materials.
A low carbon school program was begun in 2008 whereby local resorts started to sponsor nearby schools to set up recycling banks and kitchen gardens. In little over two years this covered every single one of Samui’s 26 government-managed schools with a total of 18,000 pupils. Each student has a ‘Green Book’ in which points accumulate. They are rewarded for each of their projects and there is also a point scored for every kilo of refuse they bring from home. Their whole family is involved and is now becoming aware of these issues. Students are discovering dozens of ways to re-use their garbage as well as recycling it e.g. classroom walls are covered with displays of picture frames made from ice-lolly sticks or painted scraps of plastic.
Water Management & Security
Figures (2007 data) from the Koh Sumai Green Island Project (see tourism section) indicate water consumption on this island was between 18,000 and 22,000 cubic meters per day, with 5,754 cubic meters of waste water entering purification processors daily and the rest released into rivers and canals. In 2011 Koh Samui municipality launched a Bt220 million project to once and for all solve the island’s perennial water shortage problem. Once dams have been repaired, wells made deeper, new storage tanks built and water pipes laid, commercial establishments and each of the island’s 39 villages should have adequate water supply. Treatment plants are also being constructed to prevent or minimize wastewater seepage into the Chaweng Lake.
Koh Samui has its own international airport, with flights daily to Bangkok and other major airports in Southeast Asia. Several ferries connect the island with the mainland, including the car ferry from Don Sak to a pier in the west of the island, south of the main town Nathon. Public buses to all parts of the mainland operate from a small bus station in Nathon and tuk-tuk style buses circle the ring road. Access to Ang Thong National Marine Park is strictly controlled but there are several Samui-based boat rental and kayak operators who are licensed carriers. In order to visit Koh Phaluai it is probably best to go on an eco tour with a reputable company.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
Koh Samui ranks among Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations attracting well over 1 million visitors annually. More than 450 hotels have now been built on the island offering a total of more than 16,000 rooms. With ever-growing pressures on its natural resources, the islanders, especially tourism industry stakeholders, have taken a pro-active stance to restore environmental quality. Spearheaded by the Koh Samui Tourism Promotion Association, the Thai Hotels Association Southeastern Chapter and Samui Spa Association with the full support of provincial authorities, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Green Island Project – Koh Samui was officially launched on June 18, 2007. This collaborative, long-term programme of projects and events for the sustainable protection of Koh Samui’s natural environment is still ongoing. Amongst other things, it has inspired a group of local residents, Samui Mala to organise annual community festivals that support a vision for a Clean and Green Samui. Rather more bizarrely, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Samui hosted an international bodypainting competition in 2011 under the theme ‘Preserve the Paradise”. The Buffalo Fighting Festival is a more traditional and very popular event held on special occasions such as New Year’s Day and Songkran in mid-April. Unlike Spanish bullfighting, it is a fairly harmless contest that varies according to some ancient customs and ceremonies. The buffalo are beautifully decorated with ribbons and gold-painted leaves. Before the head-wrestling bouts, which last just two rounds, monks spray them with holy water and the winning owner typically takes home millions of baht in prize money.
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning is the national focal point for implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation is responsible for protected areas. Mo Ko Ang Thong Marine National Park was designated the 21st national park of Thailand on November 12, 1980, and covers an area of 250 sq km, of which approximately one fifth is land mass. The park consists of 42 islands, most high steep limestone mountains, lined up from north to south. In general the wildlife found consists of smaller animals of which researchers have discovered 16 species of mammals, more than 50 species of birds, 14 species of reptiles and 5 species of amphibians. An interesting animal to look out for is the Dusky Langur that comes down to the parks HQ allowing visitors to observe closely.
The sea around Mo Ko Ang Thong is about 10 metres in depth. Since the archipelago is located near the mainland, it receives sediment contamination from the Tapee River. Sunlight cannot thoroughly penetrate the waters, which is a limiting factor in the control of photosynthetic life such as corals and other underwater plants. However, many other marine creatures are adapted to this environment and they still live, forage, shelter and breed here. The endangered Irrawaddy dolphin can still be found in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Thailand, as they prefer shallow waters, river estuaries and can be found far inland in rivers where they follow the "eel catfish" usually around October. Characterized by a round head and no beak, these dolphins have a small triangular dorsal fin half way along its back. Irrawaddy dolphins grow to a maximum length of about 2.3 meters and weigh up to 135 kgs. Females reach sexual maturity at 7-9 years and give birth to a single calf every 2-3 years.
The park is home to 4 types of forest still existing as fully functioning ecosystems. Dry evergreen forest and beach forest covers the large islands of Ko Wua Talap, Ko Paluai and Ko Saansao. An important plant, An Thong Lady's Slipper Orchid is an endemic species found only in the park. This species is nearly extinct in the wild due to illegal poaching. Beach forest is sparse forest growing along the beaches and foothills near the shore. There is little of this type left. Limestone forest occurs on the exposed cliff faces. Flora is found in limestone crevices with little or no soil and they are often small, drought tolerant and slow growing species. Over millions of years rain has seeped through the island of Koh Mae Koh creating an enormous limestone cavern, the roof of which, over time has collapsed, to form what is now known as the emerald lagoon of Ang Thong. An underground tunnel connects this lake with the sea. Mangrove forest is limited in the park but some can be seen on the muddy beach in the inner sea and in the bays to the east of Ko Paluai. All the mangrove forest has undergone plantation regeneration projects. Originating as a volunteer group focused on the Koh Samui fishery habitat and coral reef restoration project in 2005, Biorock Technology Thailand have since expanded their work to other countries in Southeast Asia. The park is closed to tourism during the monsoon season, November to January.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
Over the last two decades, weather patterns in Thailand have fluctuated from severe droughts to severe floods, leaving residential and agricultural areas reeling. Between, 1990 and 1993, rainfall was below normal levels, causing water shortages in 1993. Intense rainfalls in 1994 and 1995 resulted in the worst floods in Thailand’s recent history. In 2005, 11 million people in 71 provinces were affected by water shortages. In 2008, the population again suffered from severe drought with over 10 million people in the rural agricultural region affected. According to Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, 55 of the country’s 76 provinces suffered, damaging over 60,000 acres of farmland, primarily rice paddies. These droughts have contributed to concerns of a global food crisis and soaring grain prices.
The Climate Institute has reported upon these climate change impacts in Thailand and their adaptation strategies. The UK Plant a Tree Today (PATT) Foundation has undertaken several reforestation projects in Thailand and works in conjunction with IUCN and the Mangrove Action Project restoring mangrove ecosystems in and around key protected areas as, for example, this publication illustrates.