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Community groups create five-step plan to clean up Phuket using nature’s tools

Community groups create five-step plan to clean up Phuket using nature’s tools

If you live in Phuket for long, you’ll inevitably hear people com­plaining about the plastics prob­lem on the beaches, or the pollut­ed klong water leaking into the ocean.

By Palmer Owyoung

Sunday 28 July 2019, 10:00AM

But very few people ever try to find solutions to address these issues, and so the Asia Pa­cific Environmental Network (APEN), Kamala Green Club and Oceans For All have worked together to come up with a few solutions using mushrooms (mycoremediation) and plants (phytore­mediation) to repair the damage that we’re doing to the ecosystem.

The plan doesn’t just address the klongs but also how as a community we can do our part to fight climate change, clean up the plastics problem, restore coral reefs, clean the oceans and con­tribute to the economic wellbeing of the island that we call home. Because these solutions use the tools that nature has given us, none of these projects cost more than B200,000 to implement. In fact, most cost between B10,000-B100,000.

Contrary to popular belief, much of the plastic that we see on the beach isn’t left behind by careless beachgoers. Some of it comes from Indonesia but the majority of it comes from people far away from the beach who litter or from the wind blowing waste out of garbage bins. The plastic then makes its way into storm drains, which empty into the klongs and eventually into the oceans. While beach clean-ups are important and have their place, they will never be enough to keep beaches clean.

Here is our five-step plan for cleaning the environment.

Prevent plastic from entering the ocean

We will do this by installing debris nets into the klongs. So rather than only trying to collect the rubbish once it’s been deposited into and then regur­gitated by the ocean, we intend to cap­ture the rubbish before it has a chance to enter it. This will prevent it from breaking down into microplastics and it will also catch a larger amount of waste before it can be washed out into the sea or be eaten by fish.

Clean the klongs using mushrooms (mycoremediation)

Our second solution is to utilise mush­rooms to remove oil, heavy metals, bac­teria, fecal matter, sulfates, nitrates and other contaminants from the klong wa­ter. Mushrooms are a big stomach and they can digest almost anything. These filters could easily be made using a com­bination of coffee grounds and different strains of mushrooms placed in burlap sacks. This is successfully being done to clean up sewage in Washington and Or­egon at the moment.

Mushrooms have also been used to clean up forests contaminated with oil and nuclear waste, and there is even a strain of mushroom named pestalotiop­sis microspora that’s capable of breaking down and digesting plastics.

Create a community compost

Approximately 50-60% of household waste is compostable, which means it can be kept out of landfill and help to reduce the amount of CO2 and methane gas that’s coming from them. Compost­ing is one of the most important things we can do to fight climate change and it can be used to enrich soil to produce healthy fruits, vegetables and herbs from community gardens.

On Koh Lanta, they’ve created a programme with some of the hotels to generate income by buying the compost back from local Thai workers and using it as fertiliser.

Seaweed and shellfish farming

Our fourth proposal involves planting seaweed and shellfish farms along the coasts. This will have two benefits. The first is that it will provide a habitat for fish and other sea animals. The second is that it will absorb CO2, heavy metals, sewage, nitrates and phosphates from detergent that’s sometimes carelessly tossed into the ocean.

Seaweed is the fastest-growing plant on the planet and can sequester five times more CO2 than the quickest-grow­ing tree can. This method is currently being used in the different parts of the United States to fight climate change and repair dead zones in the ocean.

Coral reef restoration

In Miami, Florida, they’re breeding cor­als that are resistant to climate change and replanting them in the ocean using a unique fracturing method that short­ens the growth cycle to several months to a year rather than several years to a decade. We can replicate their suc­cess and repair the dead or dying reefs around Phuket.

Coral reefs are important because they sequester CO2, are an important source of food, provide a habitat for fish, filter dirty water and protect our coast­lines from erosion.

Welcome to Koh Siray

Koh Siray is a small, quiet island on the east coast located next to Phuket Town. Despite its beautiful views, it’s not a place commonly frequented by tourists or even expats living here. It’s the poor­est area of the island and is home to about 10,000 people. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most important communities in Phuket because it’s home to two ports where up to 200 tons of fish a day are caught. This represents approximately 80% of the fish caught on the island.

Unfortunately, the klongs where they live are clogged with plastic and filled with disease-causing bacteria and fecal matter. Many of the children living in the village are developing skin rashes and illnesses. The pollution is flow­ing into the waters that surround the island, which is then ingested by the same fish that are likely to end up on your dinner plate.

This makes Koh Siray the ideal place to implement our clean-up plan. Dr Pe­ter Harris of APEN has been working with the local leaders of the community on Koh Siray for several years, including the mayor and some of the local schools in the area, to build compost sites and gardens. He was influential in getting the Australian Navy to visit on April 29, 2019 to help clean up the beaches and provide waste bins, composting materi­als and gardening tools.

There remains a lot of work to be done, but if we are successful on Koh Siray we will be able to clean up the rest of Phuket as well.

The plan is solid, scientifically sound, low-tech, relatively inexpensive and proven to work by other communi­ties around the world. It uses the tools nature has given us rather than using harsh chemicals to clean up our mess.

Working towards a greener, cleaner, plastic-free Phuket isn’t just good for tourism and the environment. Neigh­bours who know each other and are working towards a common goal tend to be friendlier which makes for a happier and healthier community to live in.

What can you do?

Support our efforts by making a donation here.

Join the strategic planning forum chaired by Rassada Municipality at The Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa, Phuket on September 4. The event will bring together stakeholders who would like to see vast improvements in sustainability, health and wellbeing and waste reduc­tion in the area. Contact Dr Harris via email at apenseek@gmail.com for more information.

Palmer Owyoung is a writer who has recently joined the APEN team to create a collaborative approach to waste reduc­tion on Koh Siray and around Phuket.

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