“Two men got out of the vehicle, opened the back and then started shoveling raw garbage into the water, all in broad daylight.
“I was alone, a foreigner and much older than the two men, so there was nothing I could do.”
These few words from a witness of the above will shock and appall most of us. Yet this flagrant abuse of the environment goes on day after day and the repercussions are already coming back to haunt all of us in terms of health, wealth and the kind of future we are building for our children.
It is the oceans that ultimately bear the brunt of illegal fly-tipping into rivers and creeks. Frequent visitors to Thailand’s east coast are now reporting unprecedented levels of pollution, especially in the seas around Pattaya.
Take the experience of David Bell, a longtime resident of Thailand and one of the country’s leading yachtsmen. He knows the seas off Pattaya better than most. During a recent leisure sail from Ocean Marina on Jomtien to the island of Koh Si Chang, he was disgusted by the huge amount of rubbish strewn across his boat’s path.
On his return, he sent an impassioned and long overdue message to members of the tourism industry, hoteliers,
fishermen, fellow sailors and others who ply the ocean for either recreational or financial reasons. It captures the growing dismay and outrage at the plight of Thailand’s seas.
“Since I first started cruising to Koh Chang in Trat Province about three years ago, I have been getting more and more worried about the state of rubbish in the Gulf of Thailand. It has now reached a terrible, terrible condition. Last weekend we consciously started counting the amount of trash in the water – plastic bags, soft drinks bottles, cans, industrial plastic, energy drinks containers, polystyrene food containers, rope, wood, shoes, rags, all mixed with streaks of raw sewage and oil.
“During the yacht race to Koh Si Chang near Si Racha and back a couple of weeks ago, we were never more than 10 metres from some flotsam! And there were lines of junk that went down to a depth of about 10-12 metres.
“I am seriously thinking of selling my yacht as there is no pleasure sailing in a sea of plastic and polystyrene!
“According to a study I read recently, the plastic breaks up into small pieces in the water. Turtles and fish mistake it for squid... they eat it and die... that is why there is hardly any marine life left in the gulf. The garbage will also eventually drive the humans away.
“I took some Australian family members on a cruise to Koh Kram Noi the other month and they did not want to go swimming because of all the trash in the sea. It would be impossible to run the America’s Cup here with high-performance 72 catamarans...they would get bogged down in the sludge. By next year, it will be questionable as to whether we will be able to run regattas in Pattaya if this situation continues.
“Is it my responsibility? Or yours? Everyone is responsible, including:
• Tour boat operators and their customers
• Thai people living on rivers – they throw trash on the river banks or in the rivers
• Fishermen – we have seen trash being dumped by trawlers
• Tourists of all nations visiting the islands off Pattaya
• Yachtsmen – yes, I venture to say that some yachtsmen probably discard junk into the sea
• Shipping – they discharge oil and trash
• Plastic bag manufacturers and retailers
• Government and educators
“The issue needs input, awareness, education and action from all groups of people, including the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), local authorities, The Royal Thai Navy, the marine industries, yacht clubs, wind surfing clubs, dive clubs and dive businesses, the education department (the problem can only really be stemmed effectively long term through education).”
David, a stalwart member of Thailand’s yachting community, urges his fellow sailors with a stark warning.
“If we don’t start making this a serious issue, we won’t have a yacht club within a few years.
“The Gulf of Thailand is a disgusting mess. And it will not get better without help from everyone.”