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Finding the right direction for Phuket

PHUKET: For the coming year, SEEK will be gathering information on system status and trying to complete a Phuket Sustainability Report, which will be used as a guideline for further planning, actions and initiatives to help develop a more sustainable Phuket.

By Kanokwan Homcha-aim

Friday 8 February 2013, 09:21AM

Throughout four stakeholder meetings in 2012, SEEK developed ‘Phuket Compass Sustainability Indicators’ using AtKisson’s Compass Model of Sustainability. An ‘Indicator’ is a form of measurement to asses the state or progress of a particular environmental element.

This compass model consists of four points: North-Nature, East-Economic, South-Society, and West-Wellbeing. Here, I would like to present North-Nature, for which the seven priority areas are:

Area 1: Coastal Environment Quality

Aspect: Coastal Management

Why is this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s sustainability?

Phuket’s economy is primarily based on tourism, and almost all tourists come to Phuket for its white sand beaches and clean, aqua warm blue waters.

Both of these variables are directly influenced by Coastal Management (which ranges from coastal development planning, pollution and construction law enforcement, business licensing and density of vendors, litter management, etc.).

If this variable continues to deteriorate then Phuket loses its status as a world class island/beach tourist destination, especially now with the development of Cambodia’s coastal areas, and the opening of Myanmar, both of which will provide competition for Phuket in the future.

Phuket’s reputation is built here.

Proposed Indicator: 1) Marine Water Quality Index and 2) Beach Quality Index

Area 2: Ecosystem Services

Aspect: Protected Area Management

Why is this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s sustainability?

Ecosystems’ services are something that we all need, but take for granted, as we never really ‘cost-account’ for them i.e. we expect clean water, clean air, nutrient cycling, functioning of the water cycle, shade, beauty and place for outdoor recreation, but we behave as if these services are free.

Thus, as they are ‘free’ we abuse them. However, we cannot enjoy a healthy and good quality of life, or even prosperous business without these services. But nowadays, they are primarily delivered from protected areas like national parks, watershed protection areas, conservation forests, etc.

Thus, it is imperative that Phuket protects against any encroachment on the protected areas that are already established there, as it is almost impossible to restore them once they are destroyed.

Proposed Indicator: Extent of encroachment (measured in rai & hectares) of national park and other protected areas.

Area 3: Solid Waste / Garbage

Aspect: Solid Waste Management

Why this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s sustainability?

Garbage, or litter, is the most visible indicator of a deteriorating environment and also represents the level of environmental awareness, values and behaviours of the people that live there.

It is also a problem that plagues almost all areas of the island and takes away from the lustre and world class status of Phuket in many people’s eyes.

When it is washed up and litters beaches then it affects tourists’ perceptions of the status of Phuket and the quality of their holiday experience.

Also, Phuket has to burn much of its garbage, which adds to both air pollution and carbon emissions, and sending it off the island to landfills in other provinces is costly and potentially creates conflict with other communities where the landfill is situated.

Much of the garbage is organic also (i.e. food waste) which links to other issues of unsustainability.

Proposed Indicators: 1) Total amount of waste generated (tons) and per capita on the island and 2) Total amount of waste recycled (divided into types of recyclables).

Area 4: Marine Environment

Aspect: Coral Reef Health

Why is this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s sustainability?

Splash Beach Club

Again, Phuket’s reputation as a world class tourist destination relies to a great extent on the health of its marine environment and ecosystem.

Can you imagine the effect on tourism if all the coral were to disappear? What effect would this have on tour operators? A dramatic reduction in snorkelling and diving trips for a start.

How about the overall marine food chain and its cascading effect on fisheries?

This is a very important nature sustainability indicator for Phuket.

Proposed Indicator: 1) Healthy Coral Index which can consist of an aggregated measurement of, for example, coral diversity, coral coverage (extent), fish diversity (at the coral area), bleaching, sedimentation.

Area 5: Forest Coverage

Aspect: Forest Management

Why is this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s sustainability?

Without forest Phuket would lose a lot of its allure as a “premier tourism and property investment destination”.

The ‘green’ of Phuket’s mountains and coast are one of the most valuable marketing tools, alongside its beaches and blue water. The forest also provides invaluable and irreplaceable ecosystem services such as regulation of climate, water provision, flood prevention, scenic beauty, habitat for species, etc.

Can you imagine a ‘Sustainable Phuket’ with little to no forests?

Proposed Indicator: Forest Cover Change (i.e. percentage change in area under forest cover).

Area 6: Climate Change

Aspect: Carbon Emissions

Why this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s Sustainability?

Climate change is the world’s number one sustainability challenge, and its impact will significantly affect an island community like Phuket more and more in the future.

Right now, maybe there isn’t much effect being seen or experienced right now, but this will likely change sooner rather than later, especially in a systemic way, as ocean temperature will rise as well as the sea level, which will greatly affect the beaches, the coral reefs, and thus tourism.

Also, more extreme weather events like rain storms and typhoons may cause significant damage to the island’s infrastructure and also cause loss of life.

But at the same time, this can be easily tackled first by energy efficiency measures, behaviour change with electricity use and transportation choices by individuals, businesses and government.

Proposed Indicator: Total Carbon Emissions (measuring carbon emission equivalent from electricity consumption, transportation, waste incineration).

Area 7: Ecosystem Health

Aspect: Biodiversity

Why is this AREA/ASPECT important for Phuket’s Sustainability?

Imagine Phuket with no birds, monkeys, frogs, lizards, or fish surrounding the coral reefs?

Biodiversity is crucial to life on Phuket and to its tourism industry.

Tourists who come for diving and snorkelling do not come to see an empty sea, and the same can be said for the forest areas of the island that are also tourist sites.

Food security and its implications to a large segment of the local economy is another reason that this area/aspect is so important for the Nature Compass Point for Phuket’s sustainability.

Proposed Indicator: Living Planet Index (aggregate measure of vertebrate species populations in three categories: 1) Terrestrial, 2) Marine, and 3) Freshwater and includes fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

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