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The Mangrove Situation in Thailand

by the Fish Site Editor
31 July 2009, at 1:00am

THAILAND - Most foreigners know the Gulf of Thailand through its 1800 km coastline and popular tourist islands such as Koh Samui, writes Delia Paul, Stockholm Environment Institute. only a few know that the mangroves fringing this warm and shallow sea experience many changes from human activities, including coastal infrastructure development, shrimp aquaculture and inland development.

A boom in shrimp demand in the 1980s and ‘90s, combined with unclear land rights and zoning, led to major losses of mangroves in the Province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, bordering the Gulf of Thailand. Changes in land use patterns have altered river flows, leading to increased sedimentation in the delta. Since 2007, researchers of the EU-MANGROVE project have been working with local groups to reconcile the different uses of mangrove in this coastal province.

On the 14th and 15th of June 2009, a turn for the better occurred at a learning exchange session between 65 people in Nakhon Si Thammarat. The learning exchange, jointly organized by SEI, Mangroves for the Future, the EU-MANGROVE Project and CORIN Asia, brought people together to talk about the practical steps involved in mangrove restoration and coastal resource management. The participants were from villages, universities, national and provincial state agencies, and the oil and gas industry. Their meeting resulted in a proposal to create a platform for information sharing, possibly to be hosted by the provincial governor’s office.

Mangroves are usually situated on public land where there are frequently conflicts of interest between local users and government. The value of the proposed platform is in its potential for reconciliation between various interest groups. Participants at the learning exchange said that planting on mudflats is reducing the habitat available for fish fry at the most vulnerable stage of their life cycle. Meanwhile, replanting in former mangrove habitat is controversial because it reduces territory for shrimp aquaculture, which has brought many benefits to local people but nevertheless degrades the environment in the long term.

Government policy in Thailand strongly supports mangrove conservation and replanting however, more work is needed to ensure that local people are fully involved in decision making, and that rehabilitation efforts take into account the social and environmental context in which they occur. For example, recent research by CORIN Asia and SEI indicated that geometric planting patterns, as commonly practiced, are leading to beach erosion in the northern part of the Bay of Panang, adjoining the Gulf of Thailand.

Affirming the importance of reconciling different uses of mangrove, Mr Somchai Kaoaein, a civil servant from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources based at Pak Panang said, “Our target is to achieve healthy mangrove areas, but the most important target is to provide benefits from these mangroves to villagers. Law enforcement leads to conflicts and protests from villagers. We do not focus on arrests but negotiation.” Above left: Village headman explains how mangroves have been planted along the river by the local communities.

The proposed platform is a means by which negotiations are facilitated and syntheses are performed to reconcile multiple demands on mangrove resources.

the Fish Site Editor