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Thailand's Pattaya Beach could be gone in five years - expert

posted 31 Jan 2011, 07:37 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 Jan 2011, 07:39 ]

Community leaders in the Thai resort town of Pattaya are seeking solutions to a coastal erosion crisis that scientists say could see the world famous Pattaya Beach disappear in five years. The beach - a magnet for tourists from around the world - has shrunk by more than 75% in the past sixty years and local businesses are now resorting to sandbagging to save what's left.

Thailand's Pattaya beach is one of the world's best-known tourist destinations. Both Thai and foreign holiday-makers visit the beach throughout the year but local business leaders are worrying that if the beach keeps shrinking, so will the tourist trade.

Coastal erosion expert Thanawat Jarupongsakul from Thailand's Chulalongkorn University says if the beach continues to erode at the current rate, it will be gone in five years.

The beach area has shrunk to 3.2 acres (1.3 hectares) this year and its width now is about three to five metres (9.8-16.4 feet), compared to more than 35 meters (115 feet) measured in 1952.

"We have been following the rate of sand erosion since 1996 and we found out that the erosion rate is about 1.80 metres a year. If we do nothing about it, the beach will disappear in the near future - let's say less than five years. You can see that some area the beach has already disappeared," said Jarupongsakul.

Hundreds of sand bags are piled up along the shore of Pattaya, 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of Bangkok, to prevent or at least slow the erosion. Some embankments have been established to block the high tide but they can do little to prevent the loss of sand.

Jarupongsakul says more than half of the problem is caused by human activities, including coastal development projects and large scale economic growth which affect natural coastal processes. Changes in weather and wind patterns in recent decades have also contributed, according to Thailand's Ministry of the Environment. The erosion problem is having an impact along large parts of the Gulf of Thailand coastline.

Although the shore has been shrinking, the beach is still dotted with wide umbrellas and chairs for the thousands of tourists who come to bask in the sun.

The beach-chair business owners worry that the sand erosion might affect the number of tourists coming to Pattaya, especially during the high-tide season between November and February.

48-year-old Yupin Herkommer has been running a beach-chair rental business for five years. She says her business is suffering as the beach continues to shrink. Whereas she used to be able to set up more than fifty chairs, she can now only manage about twenty.

"This year is my fifth year (running this business) I could put fewer chairs on the beach because when the tide is low, we could see the water receded so little and during the high tide, the water increase quite a lot. So we have to take away our chairs and only leave a few on the beach. Sometimes we could not set them up at all," she said..

With stronger winds and high tides, the water has swept sand off the shore by as far as 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) into the Gulf of Thailand, says Jarupongsakul. Trees have also been uprooted by the erosion with more are likely to fall without any sand for the roots to hold on to.

Locals say action needs to taken before the threatened beach disappears completely.

"If we don't fill the of the embankment with sand, the water will destroy the shore because there is nothing to block - no sand - the wall. Then the water will erode the shore quicker," said beach-chair business owner Weerasak Cheiwkij.

Jarupongsakul says up to 220,000 cubic metres (7.76 million cubic feet) of sand will be needed immediately to increase the shore width to 40 metres (131 feet) and a further 150,000 cubic metres (5.3 million cubic feet) will be required every 15 years to prevent further shrinking.

The cost of the project is estimated at about 600 million baht ($US19.5 million).

"If we have a budget, I think the project could finish in one to two years. This is not new technology although it might be new in Thailand as we have never done it before, but many countries have done this. In the past, when we were faced with the erosion, we would just built some structure as you can see in many part of the country. They look so ugly and have many negative effects," said Jarupongsakul.

Jarupongsakul says the sand would come from other parts of Pattaya beach so should not upset the environment. He says the beach rescue project should start without delay.