EARTH Thailand

Fishermen in last-ditch bid to save Krabi’s rich marine life

The Nation 12 December 2016 | Pratch Rujivanarom

PM scheduled to decide on disputed coal power plant in area next month

IN a quest to protect their livelihoods and the environment, traditional fishermen of Ban Laem Hin village in Krabi have been engaged in a long-running battle to stop construction of the Krabi coal-fired power plant and coal-transporting pier.

The battle between opponents and supporters of the power plant has been fought for more than three years. 

Next month Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is slated to announce if the project will get the green light or be scrapped.

In the light of that, The Nation visited Ban Laem Hin, a prominent opposition hotbed in Nua Khlong district, to observe the natural treasure the locals are trying to preserve and speak to them about the proposed power plant project.

The district was named the fishery capital of the Andaman Sea by Chainarong Sretthachau, a leading folk-wisdom researcher from Maha Sarakham University, due to its abundance of aquatic life. Locals revealed that the products they gathered from the surrounding sea at the delta of the Pakasai Canal and other tributary canals provide them up to Bt30,000 worth of seafood on better days.

Local fisherman Suphat Cheautalae said that all 150 residents of the village depended heavily on the resources from the sea, which provided them with their food and was their major source of income.

“We live on the mercy of the sea, as she provides us all necessary needs for sustaining a daily life … These unlimited resources come from the healthy ecosystem of this area,” he said.

“The Pakasai Canal delta and the surrounding inner sea behind Sriborya Island are rich with a mangrove forest, a sea-grass field, and a coral reef, which provide habitat and a spawning area for aquatic animals, so we can get the food from the sea all year round.”

The delta of the Pakasai Canal and the surrounding tributaries have been part of the Krabi River Estuary Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention since 2001. 

Suphat stated that not only did residents of Ban Laem Hin benefit from the richness of resources from the sea, but traditional fishermen from all over Krabi and nearby provinces such as Phang Nga and Trang also regularly worked in the area.

“After we catch the fish in the morning, seafood sellers come here and buy the fresh products from us in the afternoon. We also frequently sell our fresh-caught seafood directly to the restaurants in famous tourist destinations in Phi Phi Island and Lanta Island,” he said.

The people of Ban Laem Hin only have small fishing boats and all of their fishing equipment is traditional such as nets, traps as well as fish, crab, and shrimp trawls. They normally use this equipment according to the season to catch specific types of aquatic animals.

According to the research by Chainarong, who gathered information from people in Ban Laem Hin for more than two years, which was published in August, there are 11 main fishing activities for the fishermen here. They catch crab, shellfish, squid, mullet, sand whiting, and sea bass all year round, while shrimp, jellyfish, king mackerel, and butterfish are caught seasonally. 

Abundant aquatic life in area

Chainarong disclosed that he recorded 191 types of fish, 86 types of shellfish, 28 types of crab, 22 types of shrimp, and seven types of squid in the area. The plentifulness of these aquatic animals is closely associated with the presence of the pristine mangrove forest, the seagrass field, and the coral reef ecosystems in the area, the research concluded.

“Fishing is the main economic activity for people in this area, since only six families own the land and can farm. If the sea cannot sustain them anymore, these people will have to move to the city to be cheap labour and their traditional livelihood will be lost, just like what happened to the fishermen on Mun River after the construction of Pak Mun dam,” he said.

“This information was poorly or never mentioned in the [Krabi] power plant and coal-transporting pier Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) reports.”

Jittra Nompai-ree, a prominent member of Ban Laem Hin community, said local people realised the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem and did their best to preserve it, such as fishing with non-destructive equipment and growing the mangrove forest every year.

However, villagers said that would change if the power plant and its coal-transporting pier went ahead.

A few kilometres to the east of Ban Laem Hin, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’s fuel-oil transporting pier can be seen even on a rainy day. This is the site for the proposed coal-transporting pier.

“If the coal-fired power plant operates, there will be coal-transporting barges passing by several times a day and it will cause severe impacts on the marine ecology because of the turbidity generated from large ship,” Jittra said.

“Even the oil-transporting barges, which cruise through this area around twice a month, have had impacts on the ecosystem, as the fishermen noticed that there is significantly less fish for around four days after the barges pass.”

She also revealed that recently the mangrove trees near the oil-transporting pier mysteriously died. All the dead trees had small cuts on their trunks. She said the local people suspected that someone had plotted to degenerate the mangrove forest.

“We are all worried about the environment and ecosystem of our area, as we depend heavily on it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Egat Project Environmental Division director Anuchart Palakawong Na Ayudhaya stressed that plans had been made to reduce the impact on the ecosystem and the people’s livelihoods. And it also had career development plans for those who may suffer from the project.

“We are trying to help in what way we can, but they [the villagers] still do not open their minds. We are planning to study all the resources in the area and people’s livelihoods, as if there are adverse impacts from the project, we can compensate them profoundly,” Anuchart said.

The 800-megawatt Krabi coal-fired power plant is one of new coal-fired power plant projects proposed by Egat. It was due to operate by 2019 but its construction is two years behind schedule.