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Phuket Opinion: Muddying the waters

Phuket Opinion: Muddying the waters

PHUKET: The claim by the Patong sanitation chief this week that untreated wastewater is in no way a contributing factor of the macro algae bloom in Patong Bay – which in turn spurred the flood of red sea urchins onto the beach – has only muddied the waters over what has been a recurring issue for decades.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 21 March 2021, 09:00AM

A screenshot from a video taken by a visitor to Patong Beach on Feb 27 showed brown water along the southern half of the Patong beachfront. Image: The Phuket News / reader

A screenshot from a video taken by a visitor to Patong Beach on Feb 27 showed brown water along the southern half of the Patong beachfront. Image: The Phuket News / reader

As far as Nattawut Thepthon, Chief of the Patong Municipality Sanitary Works Division, is concerned the algae bloom is purely a natural phenomenon. No doubt algae blooms can be a natural phenomenon, but they are also exacerbated by higher concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus – the key remains of human waste.

As the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says plainly: “When a septic system is improperly managed, elevated nitrogen and phosphorus levels can be released into local water bodies or ground water.”

The EPA also plainly points out: “Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle… Some algal blooms are harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick if they come into contact with polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.”

Perhaps Mr Nattawut, as the chief of all issues concerning wastewater in Patong, needs to be made aware of that.

As for Mr Nattawut challenging respected marine life expert Dr Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, Chief of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), which is operated by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), to explain further how the algae bloom developed, there is no need for Dr Kongkiat to respond. His claim is solid, and deserves kudos and support for publicly voicing his concerns.

What Mr Nattawut might also need to understand is that Patong Municipality chiefs have already admitted, during pre-COVID times, that wastewater from homes in Patong that are not connected to the town’s sewerage system account for 20% of wastewater discharged at this time of year.

There was no need to try to save face by hiding from that fact by speaking solely about the wastewater released by the sludge treatment plant.

Worse, Mr Nuttawut might have to learn the hard way that in the age of social media there is no hiding such incidents from the public. A video posted online by a visitor to Patong Beach on Feb 27 showed the beach water was a sickly brown from the canal at the southern end of the beach, from where all previous brown water blooms have emanated, to halfway along the three-kilometre beach. This fact was realised by The Phuket News only after we ran the story announcing Dr Kongkiat’s concerns.

Mr Nuttawut failed to mention the brown-water episode late last month. Either he was unaware of it, or he decided it was not relevant.


More depressing is the attitude taken by Mr Nuttawut about the issue. Brown water at Patong Beach can be a killer in the decision by tourists wanting to return, at a time when Phuket desperately needs to restart its tourism industry.

Don’t forget that dirty beach water was one of the key issues raised by a delegation of no less than 17 ambassadors who travelled to Phuket in 2013 to highlight all the woes created locally that were becoming major deterrents for foreign tourists wanting to come to Phuket.

Brown water at Patong Beach is not likely to inspire any Thai tourists either.

Sadly, Mr Nattawut is not alone in relegating wastewater as not a major concern. When former Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup announced her grand plan to develop Patong into a ‘Green Tourism City’ last month, wastewater did not even rate a mention.

Mr Nattawut’s attitude of “If I didn’t do it, then it’s not my fault” is also shared, as evidenced by the incredible denial of haze over Phuket this week.

Polluting beach water via canals, waste dumping and even razing of large tracts of land at Cape Panwa is continuing. Phuket has not changed its ways, and may well pay for that dearly as the economic crisis continues.

Despite all the rhetoric, there have been no attempts to move Phuket toward a truly more sustainable future by preserving the island’s natural beauty – the key driver of tourism to the island. It’s simply not on the agenda.

And this comes while the leading figures for all the island’s municipalities are vying for office in the municipal elections to be held nationwide next Sunday (Mar 28). If the ongoing widespread economic suffering across the island is not enough to prompt the next round of leaders into action, we shudder to think what will.

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JohnC | 22 March 2021 - 10:13:38

Very good article. Shows how little the elected officials really care. Their only concern is lining their pockets when/if tourists ever come back.

Kurt | 21 March 2021 - 12:59:44

It is astonishing that Patong Municipality employs this incapable and distrustful 'Sanitation Chief'. Mind you, Patong is in normal times a multi dollar earning tourist business. Patong should have the best of the best Officials in every field. This Sanitation Chief damage the image of Patong as a tourist destination. He knows tourist swim in 'poop water'. 

Capricornball | 21 March 2021 - 11:23:31

Excellent article PN... certainly one of the best "Opinions" I have read. It is truly disheartening to continue to hear, year after year, the denial, finger pointing and blame deflection from every single Phuket official regarding water pollution. Why Thai officials don't get it...I just don't understand. At this point, I have no hope that it will ever change.

Svcoquette | 21 March 2021 - 11:15:45

We've anchored many times in Patong. At night we have smelled the dirty black water which comes out of the canal at the south end of the beach. Only at night though as if a valve is opened to drain the untreated sewage. 


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