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Saving Pattaya from erosion

January 28, 2011

Chulalongkorn University’s expert on coastal erosion, Thanawat Jarupongsakul, rang the alarm bells earlier this week when he made a grim prediction for the Pattaya resort town.

Sixty years ago the long, white, sandy beach there was 35 metres wide. By 2002, the beach had been reduced by half. Now, according to Mr Thanawat, that width has been eroded down to merely 4-5 metres. Given the accelerating rate of sand erosion, Pattaya beach might disappear entirely in five years’ time if nothing is done to shore it up, it, he warned.

To say this is bad news would be an understatement. The whole economy of Pattaya resort town would crumble without its famous beach. To rescue the beach, and keep the Pattaya economy running, it has been proposed that 200,000 cubic metres of sand be dumped there to increase the beach’s width to 30 metres. Everyone seems happy with this solution. It is quick. It is easy. It involves a big budget that will make some people richer. But this short-term answer will certainly not resolve the longstanding problem of sand erosion.

The erosion of Pattaya beach is just the tip of the iceberg. Coastal erosion is a serious problem nationwide, with the country’s 2,666-km shoreline suffering erosion at different levels, many critically. Going for short-term solutions without addressing the root causes is therefore a mistake. So is treating each problem in isolation because coastal erosion in different parts of the shoreline are in fact inter-related.

Another mistake is to blame coastal erosion on climate change and other natural causes such as the changing patterns of winds and waves. Such an approach is not only fatalistic, it is often wrong. Studies worldwide have shown that coastal erosion is principally caused by a host of man-made structures which affect wind-and-wave patterns in the area. Short-sighted development such as the pumping of underground water that causes widespread land subsidence, the destruction of mangrove forests, the mushrooming of factories along the coasts, and the building of huge structures such as big dams, water gates, seaports and bridges – all play a part in coastal erosion. Studies also show that man-made structures to counter erosion such as beach walls, jetties and breakwaters actually worsen the overall situation.

Making Mother Nature a scapegoat keeps us from looking into the real causes of coastal erosion. It also intensifies man’s attempts to win and control nature which, as shown by the various anti-erosion structures, are both environmentally destructive and selfish because changes in wave and wind direction adversely affect the coast in other parts of the country.

As for the critical situation at Pattaya, although an emergency beach-filling plan cannot be ruled out, the long-term solution must be based on a thorough understanding of the dynamics of wind and wave patterns both in the area and in the Gulf of Thailand. This is respect for nature.

It also requires a thorough analysis of how structures in the sea and excessive coastal development, there and elsewhere, contribute to the erosion problem.This is respect for knowledge.

Only then will we have a chance to save Pattaya beach.

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