After more than six months of repeated attempts to bring the issue of environmental degradation on Racha Yai to the attention of authorities, island-dwellers finally received their first ever visit from environmental officials last week.
Today (May 28) a meeting was held at Rawai Municipality to discuss the findings of the visit.
What the officials saw on the island included piles of garbage, polluted water and land encroachment.
“We’ve seen the effects of tourism become more noticeable since 10 years ago,” said the President of Preserve and Protect Racha Yai Club, Sarit Jandee, whose family have lived on the island for decades.
“If you visit the island, you will see holes filled with garbage right next to the sidewalk,” Mr Sarit said. “Glass bottles, food, foam lunch boxes. Those are the types of waste you get from unmanaged tourism.”
Racha Yai is encountering another major environmental problem, polluted water from two canals discharging water from the centre of the island into Siam Bay, to the north. Mr Sarit believes this is the result of a combination of inappropriate waste water treatment and a lack of law enforcement.
Ironically, this problem appears to have been partially fixed by another form of lawbreaking, for now at least. An illegal structure blocking one of klongs prevents the pollution from reaching the reefs 200 metres offshore.
The reefs are gradually recovering from coral bleaching, reported Phuket Marine Biological Center researcher, Chaimongkon Yamaroonpattana.
The reefs, he said, will recover to “acceptable” levels in five years if there are no “disturbing factors”.
Mr Chaimongkon said that one of these disturbing factors might be pollution from the klong flowing into Siam Bay.
Eventually, of course, the klong will overflow and the pollution will reach the reef 200 metres offshore.
“If we don’t do something soon, Racha island will be dead,” said Mr Sarit.
Around 1,200 visitors a day arrive at Racha Yai island in high season, and around 500 in low season.
“We want to see everyone taking action on this issue,” said Mr Sarit, “to make sure that the island’s [environment] will definitely survive.”
Today, officials agreed to apply regulations and laws “in a compromising way” but local environmental activist, Suta Prateep Na Thalang, wondered how long the island’s environment will have to wait before the laws would be enforced in an uncompromising way.
“If we begin things late, will the environment be capable of resilience 10 years hence?” he asked.