Millions of people flock to Thailand's beaches every year, but this puts a strain on its beautiful coast. Organisations across the country are working to preserve its pristine white sands – here's how you can get involved too
Travellers across the world dream of lying on postcard-perfect crystal sands, with a cocktail in hand and the ocean at their feet. The sad reality, though, is that the dreamy beaches of Thailand are under threat.
The boom of tourism in Thailand has led to an overrun coastline and a struggling infrastructure – and natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami have made matters worse. But the locals love their beaches as much as the visitors do – and they're working hard to ensure they stay as beautiful as ever.
There are a number of organisations in Thailand working towards saving the shores, with beach clean-ups, waste prevention projects, marine restoration, and other conservation techniques. In recent years, vast strides have been made to make sure Thailand’s beaches aren’t lost forever, and these businesses are among the leaders of that vision.
“A key challenge for Thailand's beaches is too much development,” explains Arnfinn Oines, Social and Environmental Conscience Manager of Soneva Kiri Hotel. In 2014 the hotel won the Thailand Green Excellence Award for Nature, Maritime and Heritage, for its wonderfully sustainable attitude to tourism. Soneva Kiri’s extensive recycling, sustainability, and restoration projects have not only improved the environment around the hotel, but also changed the lives of 150,000 people in its surrounding area.
“Soneva Kiri has focused on low density development with only 36 villas on a 158-acre site, which puts less pressure on the beaches around our resort,” Oines continues. “We recycle 80% of waste, making sure that little goes to landfill. Plastic bottles have been eliminated as we’ve used our own Soneva drinking water in glass bottles since the opening of the resort in 2010. We have also established a solar-reef garden that helps increase the marine life in the ocean. Additionally, we have funded a forest restoration project that has planted over 500,000 trees of 90 different species in northern Thailand.”
Many resorts in Thailand are moving towards sustainability models like Soneva Kiri’s, but smaller businesses are also doing their bit. Established in 2000, Save Koh Tao is a small organisation staffed by locals that strive to keep their home idyllic. Koh Tao has become one of Thailand’s most popular island destinations, and despite being only 21sq-km, it sees 100,000 tourists each year.
The main focus of Save Koh Tao’s work is to reduce the amount of rubbish on beaches and around the island by organising beach and water clean-ups with local businesses and diving companies. It also works on education and awareness for tourists and locals, to ensure that future generations understand the importance of sustainability. The annual Save Koh Tao Festival is a two-day event filled with live music, activities, and fundraising – all dedicated to promoting conservation on the island.
Also pioneering the beach clean-up movement is Trash Hero Thailand, a project based on the island of Koh Lipe. As well as clearing the country’s shores of rubbish, this organisation focuses on reducing the number of plastic water bottles by replacing them with reusable stainless steel water bottles.
After launching in December 2013, the company hit the ground running, with backing from dozens of businesses in the area within the first couple of months. Trash Hero Thailand has gone from strength to strength ever since.
“The initial idea was simple,” recalls Darius Vakili-Tehami, a Swiss expat who runs a small resort on Koh Lipe. “We wanted to clean and preserve the beaches of the islands we love. So we asked people – tourists and locals – to help pick up trash, and local businesses provided us with longtail boats, trash bags, and food and drinks.
“Nearly two years later, there have been 235 cleanups, where 4,810 volunteers from all over the world have removed more than 95,000 kilograms of trash from beaches in Thailand. There are now sixteen official Trash Hero chapters, each of which conducts weekly cleanups around their area beaches and parks in Thailand and Indonesia.”
It’s businesses like these that are spearheading Thailand’s future towards a cleaner, more sustainable coastline. Beach clean-ups and events take place throughout the year, so ask around during your trip to make a difference on Thailand’s coastline.