Thai villagers in bid to halt disappearing coast

Tue Oct 6, 2009 4:20am EDT
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By Papitchaya Boonngok

BANG KHUN THIEN, Thailand (Reuters) - Some villagers use bamboo fencing. Others plant mangroves. And some do both to fight back against erosion transforming centuries-old communities on the Gulf of Thailand.

Only a half hour drive south of Bangkok, coastal regions already show alarming signs of erosion: electricity poles, once on land, are submerged in parts of Bang Khun Thien, a district on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Kongsak Lerkngam, who lives in Bang Khun Thien and works on an erosion protection initiative in six coastal provinces, said about 1,140 acres of village land have disappeared in the past 30 years at a rate of between 1.2-4.6 meters a year.

Caused by a combination of expanding fishing industries such as shrimp farms and global warming that has raised sea levels, the erosion has wiped out many of the mangrove forests that once offered a natural buffer on the Gulf of Thailand coast.

"The forest is gone," Kongsak said of the mangroves.

"In the past, erosion was not this intense but now the erosion is very intense," he added.

Most of the affected regions were cleared of mangroves by shrimp farms, a big business in Thailand that brings in $2 billion in exports a year.

Some villagers are fighting back with varying degrees of success. In 1999, about 46 villages began planting mangroves in an attempt to revive the ecosystem of trees and shrubs which once formed a coastal barrier to protect their communities.   Continued...