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Asia Dive News : Sea wall in Southern Thailand threatens turtles

As workers finish the final touches on a huge sea wall on a beach resort in Phangnga, fears are growing that sea turtles would be beaching there for the last time. This month mother turtles, including leatherbacks, will begin laying eggs on Thai Muang beach until February.

But the 2.5km wall, built as protection from waves, will put a halt to their nesting forever and may even fuel coastal erosion, scientists warn.

``The law says turtles are a protected species, but nothing has been done so far to put their nesting areas under protection,'' said marine biologist Kongkiet Kiti- wattanawong of Phuket Marine Biological Centre.

The 2.5-metre-high wall, which has nearly been completed, was erected after the tsunami slammed onto the beach late last year.

Thai Muang tambon administration organisation, a local governing body, received 30 million baht under the state restoration project and decided to build the sea wall, which is also part of its beach development plan.

The decision, however, has upset conservationists who say the wall will accelerate the decline of turtle nesting grounds and at the same time change wave directions that will lead to coastal erosion along nearby shores.

Twelve years ago, there were more than 10 turtle nests on the beach, but the number has dramatically declined to just three last year as a result of community expansion and other damaging activities.

The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, to which his centre belongs, does not have a specific law to declare an area under protection. The department was only established after bureaucratic reforms in 2002. ``We are totally dependent on the awareness of local officials at the moment in our conservation efforts,'' said Mr Kongkiet. His department is pushing for a law to declare Thai Muang beach a protected area.

He wonders why Thai Muang tambon administration organisation did not assess the environmental impact before the wall's construction.

Part of the wall, he said, was also extended to cover sand dunes, the small sand hills with shrubs and trees growing on them. Scientists say they are natural barriers against waves.

The TAO ``just comes up with an easy solution without caring about the future impact, which would demand endless construction of sea walls,'' said geologist Sasin Chalermlarp, also secretary to the environmental group Seub Nakhasathien Foundation.

He said the wall would deflect the waves, which would then become stronger and hit nearby Lampee-Thai Muang Marine National Park hard. The beach at the park has served as a nesting ground for many rare species of turtle, which struggle to avoid disturbances from villagers and tourists.

Chairman of the Thai Muang tambon administration organisation Sanit Worakit said his organisation did not initiate the sea wall project, but just followed the state's restoration plan.

The TAO document says the project is expected to prevent future wave impacts on the beach and help improve scenery and attract more tourists, which would then create more jobs and income under the ``environmental and natural resource management strategy.''

``There are bright lights there and many tourists roam in the area every day, so how will turtles dare to lay their eggs there,'' Mr Sanit said.

Source: Bangkok Post