The cleanup, which started at 7am and involved cooperation from the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command and officials from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) Phuket office, focussed solely on Koh Hei.
The island, which lies just southeast of Phuket, has suffered heavy environmental pressure from mass tourism in recent years as a popular day-trip destination to 800-1,000 tourists a day arriving from Phuket.
Ittiput Schadt, Secretary of Go Eco Phuket, explained that originally 500 people had signed up to help with the clean-up, which was to target three sites; Koh Hei, and Koh Racha Yai and Koh Racha Noi to the south of Phuket.
“But there was heavy wind and rain in the morning, and due to the weather several boat operators decided not to go out for safety reasons,” Mr Ittiput said.
Accordingly, the plan was changed to hold the cleanup at Koh Hei only.
“In in the end a total of 300 people took part, with 100 divers carrying out the underwater clean-up and the remaining 200 helping to clean up the beach,” Mr Ittiput said.
The beach clean-up netted 15kg of rubbish alone.
“The rubbish collected underwater at Koh Hei alone totalled a ton. Most of it was glass bottles, plastic bottles, fishing nets, fishing line and even smart phones, iPhones and Samsung models, which were likely dropped by tourists,” Mr Ittiput explained.
Gracing the official opening of the event were DMCR Region 9 Director Watcharin Thinthalang and Phuket Vice Governor Prakob Wongmaneerung.
“This event has been organised because Thailand ranks sixth worst in the world for trash in the sea, and also today (Sept 15) is International Coastal Cleanup Day 2018,” Mr Watcharin noted.
“It is also being held to honour the 66th birthday of His Majesty The King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun on July 28,” he said.
“We urge people to be conscious of the environmental damage and pollution they cause – please do not drop any trash into the ocean, and stop using plastic or foam, use recyclable products instead,” Mr Watcharin added.
“We have received a lot of support to carry out the cleanup on the beach and underwater, and there is a special presence from Walailak University in Nakhon Sri Thammarat and the Prince of Songkla University (PSU) Phuket campus, as well as Haad Thip (Coca-Cola distrubutors in Thailand) and CP All Co Ltd (the main operating company for the Charoen Pokphand Group).
“We will keep supporting projects that help clean the beaches and underwater sites so that Thais and tourists learn to be more environmentally conscious,” he said.
V/Gov Prakob said, “I am very pleased to be present for this event. The corals at Koh Hei, Koh Racha Yai and Koh Racha Noi are all major tourist attractions, especially for tourists who come here to scuba dive and for green tourism.
“But underwater garbage is becoming a big problem, including rubbish from the tourists ending up in the sea, along with waste left in the water by the fishing industry.
“This activity can inspire others to hold their on clean-ups,” he said.
“I would like to thank and support all the people who came together to organise this event and take part in it in order to clean up our oceans,” V/Gov Prakob added.
Meanwhile, Mr Ittiput noted that Go Eco Phuket was already lining up for another underwater clean-up to be held later this year.
“My plan is to hold another garbage-collecting activity in November,” he said.
"We are also thinking about having a new underwater sculpture of a sea dragon installed at Koh Racha Yai as a new dive attraction,” Mr Ittiput added.
“Some divers have said they would like an old car or another motorbike wreck instead. We need to talk about it with others before we go ahead with this,” he concluded.