Huge damage to marine ecology feared
THE LATEST oil spill in Prachuap Khirikhan’s Hua Hin district and nearby areas has affected a larger area than the spill that hit Rayong’s Koh Samet in 2013, causing incalculable damage to marine ecology.
The Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Institute said that oil spills happen often in Thai seawaters, as 13 were reported between September 2014 and last month. Seven of the oil spills occurred in Rayong, where a major industrial port is situated.
Institute director Pinsak Suraswadi said the affected area from the oil spill this time was more than 100 square kilometres.
It is 10 times larger than the severe oil spill in Rayong in 2013, which covered around 11 square kilometres.
“The winds and currents are the main factors that spread the oil over a wide area, but luckily the amount of oil spilled was not as much as in the Rayong incident,” he said.
However, he said the ecological impact of the oil spill was certain, as the oil contaminated both the sandy beaches and the mangrove forest ecosystem of the inner Gulf of Thailand, an important breeding and nourishing place for marine life.
“It is very hard to calculate the damage to the ecosystem because we cannot accurately estimate the cost of ecological service that the healthy ecosystem provides. We cannot evaluate the ability of the sandy-beach ecosystem to provide a breeding site, or the importance of mangrove forests as nurseries for marine animals,” he explained.
On the bright side, he said the Bryde’s whale population living in the area was not directly affected and there was still no uncommon or mass death of marine life.
“The whales are intelligent and quick. They can sense the pollution in the sea and avoid the oil-spill area.
“However, as we still do not know which type of oil leaked, we cannot pinpoint whether there is any chemical contamination of the ecosystem,” Pinsak said.
“What we can do now is to clean up the oil slick as soon as possible.”
Technology to be used
Regarding prevention of oil spills in future, Kritpetch Chaichuay, director of the Marine Safety and Environment Bureau, said technology would be brought in to enhance sea surveillance.
“The Marine Department is working with relevant agencies to tighten sea inspections, and we are planning to introduce radar technology,” Kritpetch said.
“We are also using satellite images provided by the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency to keep an eye on the oil spill in the sea, so that we can clean up the mess before it reaches the shore.”
He warned that discharging oil into the sea was illegal and those who did so would be punished with three years’ imprisonment and a Bt60,000 fine. They also have to pay for damage caused by the contamination.