To their credit, state agencies are making sincere efforts to preserve vulnerable natural ecosystems that are dependent on the existence of coral reefs and mangrove forests. The Royal Forestry Department and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources continue to make headlines with successive raids and enforcement of regulations, which conservationists would agree is a step in the right direction. Likewise, beach clean-ups organised by the private sector will also continue to go a long way to maintain the integrity of coastal ecosystems, at least on the surface.
But the question is two-fold: whether preservation efforts are sufficient, and whether the booming tourism industry can be sustained alongside such efforts.
Another pertinent factor is the fact that 40 per cent of all jobs in Thailand are in farming, forestry and fishing, according to the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI).
Clearly, a highly significant number of livelihoods are still dependent on the subsistence of natural resources. However, fishing and deforestation, especially when employing unsustainable practices, create only short-term incomes, while proper development and technological advancement within these industries implies a departure from traditional methods, which in turn reduces the demand for manpower.
Enter Thailand’s increasing dependency on tourism, and it is the environment – the proverbial golden goose – which has borne the brunt of this rapid transition.
Bolstering and promoting eco-tourism seems to be one happy medium. Still in its infancy, “green” tourism is largely untapped, with so much potential, but having more brochures showcasing picturesque fruit orchards, and extravagant lush golf courses will hardly be sufficient to lure more environmentally-conscious tourists, especially while many communities still suffer from water shortages and wastewater mis-management.
Add in the relentless bolstering of mass-tourism, and the situation only exasperates. This goes without saying that eventually even the “quantity” will follow the example of the “quality” and seek greener pastures elsewhere.