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Phuket Opinion: The shame of knowing

PHUKET: The Phuket News received an interesting question from a reader this week regarding the recurring problem of officials denying that wastewater is contaminating beach water at key Phuket beaches, including Patong and Kamala.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 9 April 2023, 10:00AM

The Pollution Control Department’s most recent water quality monitoring report for the Pak Bang Canal in Patong, reported as tested on Feb 20, marked that the water was ’very deteriorated’. Image: EPO15

The Pollution Control Department’s most recent water quality monitoring report for the Pak Bang Canal in Patong, reported as tested on Feb 20, marked that the water was ’very deteriorated’. Image: EPO15

“They should have someone expert in their field to monitor the quality of water being released into sea,” the reader wrote. That short answer is, there is. Actually, there are two government offices on Phuket responsible for monitoring beach water quality. It’s just that dirty water plaguing our beaches is not something officials want to recognise until it is already an obvious problem being made public by photos spreading across social media.

As Sittipol Muangsong, Chief of the Phuket Fisheries Office, noted when inspecting the “dark water” at Patong Beach late last month, “Marine biologists from the Marine Resources Research Center at Cape Panwa will take samples of the water to determine the exact cause of the phenomenon”.

In this, Mr Sittipol was referring to the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) at Cape Panwa, operated by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).

What as not so funny was Mr Sittipol’s presumption “…and [for the PMBC marine biologists] to reduce concerns among the public so they understand that this is a natural phenomenon. It does not affect the tourism sector in any way.” To note, Mr Sittipol is a fisheries chief, not an environmental expert, assigned to investigate the “phenomenon” – and here is where the fancy dancing begins.

The DMCR was never reported as inspecting the water quality at Patong Beach, though their officers was happy to investigate a similar dark water problem at Plub Pla Beach at Racha Yai Island.

The DMCR, or its agency the PMBC, was not even mentioned by Kathu District Chief Thitiwat Boonkij and Kamala Tambon Administration Organisation (OrBorTor) President Jutha Doomluck when addressing the press over the black wastewater streaming across Kamala Beach also late last month, a problem that continued to plague Kamala Beach this week.

The PMBC is tasked with monitoring water quality at 23 stations around the island, including all the major beaches such as Patong and Kamala, under a project started after a unified call for better beach water quality, among other things, from 17 ambassadors of European countries in 2013.

The project aimed for Phuket to follow the ‘Blue Flag’ system initially used at major tourist beaches throughout Europe, and now used at major beach destinations around the world.

Under that project, the PMBC was to conduct the water testing, and issue its own reports, while the Pollution Control Department was to publish up to date results of the water quality tests conducted at the 23 monitoring stations. In Phuket, the local Pollution Control Department officers operate under the Environmental and Pollution Control Office Region 15 (EPO15).

The PMBC lists its beach water quality reports on its home page, but its most recent report posted is for October 2021. The report shows that the water quality at Patong and Kamala at that time as both “very good”, which is literally no surprise as the number of tourists in Phuket was greatly depleted as the island’s tourism industry continued to recover from the COVID-19 fallout at that time. 

There have been no beach water quality reports posted by the PMBC since then, especially not the results of the tests Mr Sittiphol claimed the PMBC would conduct on Mar 28.

The PCD, under the EPO15, however, has continued to publish more recent reports, but it takes a little digging, and the reports are never shared by the major Thai news outlets, government or otherwise. Of note, the PCD (or EPO15) was not even mentioned by officials who claimed to be taking action over the black wastewater recently plaguing our key beaches. An oddity, as they are literally the “Pollution Control Department”.

The EPO15 also features a link to its water quality reports on its home page, but you will have to scroll to the bottom to find it. Forget the ‘Star studded beach’ reports, those have not been updated for five years. However, the “Coastal water quality reports” do feature more recent information with the location of the monitoring stations marked on an interactive map.

The most recent report for the Pak Bang Canal in Patong, which, believe it or not is monitored for water quality, is for Feb 20, 2023 – honestly marking it as “very deteriorated”. The coincidentally named Pak Bang Canal in Kamala, which delivers the black wastewater across Kamala Beach, is not even monitored.

Both the DMCR and the PCD have been blatantly ignored in addressing the ongoing blight of wastewater contaminating our beach water – and this cannot be construed as a oversight. Taking action in preventing coastal waters from being polluted are the main reasons for these office’s existence.

For the DMCR in particular, for an agency that once had a Russian grandmother held in a police cell for two nights for feeding fish at Racha Yai Island, and threatening tourists with up to a year in jail or a fine of up to B100,000 for smoking on beaches, their silence on this issue is damning. They know what is going on, and they are refusing to do anything about it.

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Kurt | 10 April 2023 - 09:16:30

Sometime next month the rainy monsoon period starts.  Waiting for flooded roads and streets. Sure they not anticipating it and many drains and sewage pipe lines are now blocked with much dirt. 

christysweet | 10 April 2023 - 09:11:12

Layan soi 7 now has 6 worker camps and likely 1000 + people crapping, much of which is  going into the ditch along the road. Beyond disgusting visible excrement  and the rains will soon wash it  all into Layan bay 

Timothy | 10 April 2023 - 08:14:57

One hardly has to be an expert to gauge the quality of the water in the Klongs flowing into the sea. They smell like an open sewer, which they are. Nothing is being done to fix this problem. Total greed and ignorance. The local idiots keep calling Phuket "world class" which is total BS. It is/was a very nice island that is being ruined by their greed and incompetence. Third world class! 

megamind | 09 April 2023 - 19:36:00

Anything that can damage Thailand's tourist image is strictly under government control and no one can speak negatively about it without suffering consequences: this is real hypocrisy.

Jimmy888 | 09 April 2023 - 16:13:00

Spot on Kurt. Every level of the Thai government is rotten to the core. All about "Money" and "image". Totally apathetic and narcissistic criminals.

Kurt | 09 April 2023 - 11:27:57

PMBC and DMCR are big Thai jokes. Avoid to touch real important Phuket environment/sustainable issues. Instead derailing as with Racha Island happening and things like 'Grandmother's fish feeding'/beach smoking. Why? Simply low level dumb Officialdom behavior, just focus on ordinair pocket bribe/corruption challenges. Extort tourists financially were they can. Money-money.

Kakka2 | 09 April 2023 - 10:38:22

great summary and right on spot... DMCR are another shameless waste of tax payer money,  with clearly not clear intent on their action... 


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