Like other coastal cities, Pattaya is losing parts of its majestic beach to erosion at the rate of one metre every monsoon season.
A massive landfill project, to cost the central government Bt450 million, is planned to restore the city’s 2.7-kilometre beach to its former glory. About 50 years ago, Pattaya boasted 35 metres of beachfront, but presently, sandy areas are less than five metres in width during high tide. Under the project, tonnes of sand would be transported to the beachfront to restore the condition of the city’s North, Central and South Pattaya beaches.
Pattaya Deputy Mayor Ronakit Ekasingh was optimistic that the landfill project was a sustainable solution for keeping the beachfront in pristine condition. He said the area would first undergo an environmental impact assessment (EIA) under the supervision of the Marine Department.
The city has already spent Bt16 million in emergency funds to check the 29-metre erosion of North Pattaya beach. Hundreds of giant sandbags line the beach.
The idea of a landfill to counter coastal erosion was first conceived in 1994. The Pattaya Bay Area, one of Asia's largest beach resort areas, appeals to both local and foreign travellers, each year attracting about 10 million visitors.
Over the past four years, Pattaya’s city administration and Chulalongkorn University have been working together to develop the project into a workable solution.
Chulalongkorn researcher Thanawat Jarupongsakul said the new landfill in Pattaya would be the first of its kind in Thailand. Should the project prove a success, it would be emulated in Hua Hin and coastal areas in the South, Thanawat said.
The Pattaya landfill, he said, would need over 360,000 cubic metres of sand and would take over eight months to complete. Barriers in the sea would have to be constructed 15 metres high to create a buffer zone and protect the 100-metre stretch of beach, before the sand to enlarge the beachfront could be introduced. The process would have to be repeated again in about 10 to 14 years to ensure the condition of the beach was maintained.
In a similar beachfront landfill in Germany, the landfill lasted 20 years before it had to be replaced, said Thanawat, adding that Thai contractors did not have the know-how to produce the kind of landfill needed, which could affect its longevity.
A simulated study indicated that as much as 10 metres of a beachfront landfill is washed away in the first year. According to Thanawat, the sand lost each year would have to be replaced for three years running, before the sand settled and the width of the beachfront remained naturally stable.
Conservationists have warned that a landfill might not be easy to implement in the face of strong winds, storms and tides.
Na Krua conservationist Ratana Ongsombat opposes the landfill. Before the construction of buildings on Pattaya’s beachfront, the wind and tide had protected the beach from erosion, she said. However, encroachment on the beach had halted this natural process. For example, the construction of the Truth Sanctuary in Pattaya Bay has had an adverse impact on the surrounding environment. Other landfills in southern Thailand and abroad failed to check coastal erosion, Ratana said.
“Beach erosion will not be halted so long as authorities turn a blind eye to beach encroachment,” she said, believing the beachfront landfill would end up causing even worse erosion.
Kasetsart University environmentalist Somnuk Jongmeewasin said the landfill was a stopgap solution for coastal erosion. “The sustainable way to solve erosion is to refrain from encroaching on the sea”, he said. “Manmade diversions of the tide and current are the main causes of this erosion.”