PHUKET: Officers form the Royal Thai Navy are leading an investigation into claims of encroachment into a protected mangrove forest area near Klong Mudong in Wichit.
Leading an inspection of the area yesterday (May 11) was Capt Pratchai Thongrak, Director of the ‘Investigation and News Division Administrative Office’ of the National Marine Interest Center at the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) Third Area Command [3AC], based at Cape Panwa.
Capt Pratchai explained that he had been tasked to conduct the investigation by RTN Third Area Commander Vice Admiral Sompong Nakthong, who had received a formal complaint from local villagers of the Makham Khu (‘Twin Tamarind’) community on April 29.
The complaint alleged that people had invaded the Klong Mudong mangrove area by entering and occupying an area along the canal, Capt Pratchai said.
The encroachment had prevented the villagers from making a living by fishing and catching crabs, he added.
“The complaint also said that there had been encroachment into the protected mangrove forest, which had destroyed natural resources and caused ecological and environmental damage,” he said.
Winai Samsi, an assistant to the village headman (Phu Yai Baan), said that the Makham Khu community comprised more than 500 people living in 121 households.
The area was originally used for tin mining since 1947, but after tin mining was abandoned in 1985-1988, the villagers were allowed to stay, he said.
“Villagers have made a living through fishing, such as using nets, raising shrimp and raising fish in [aquaculture] cages,” Mr Winai added.
However, other people had moved into the area and disturbed the natural ecosystem with trash and other waste dumped into the canal, he said.
The inspection yesterday confirmed that new construction had taken place in the area, Capt Pratchai noted.
“We saw the condition of the area where construction had been done in areas where houses and mangrove forests are mixed, affecting areas used by villagers for their livelihoods,” he said.
“It was quite complicated in order to ensure there is balance with people living with nature. If there is no nature, people will be in trouble. There must be zoning. I think that we still can’t set clear zones for this area. If the zones were clear and well maintained, there would be no complaints,” Capt Pratchai said.
“As for the process of resolving this issue, the Third Area Command will be involved only as a mediator and a mentor for the community to help society and the community solve this problem. There should be a suitable way and a good solution, because if a government agency does not like the people on either side, will there be inequality? Intervention is possible, the 3AC will not abandon the community. We will do our best for the Makham Khu community to have a good quality of life. This is a sustainable and fertile mangrove forest,” said Capt Pratchai.
Wattanachai Petthitiwat, Policy and Plan Analyst at the Phuket Mangrove Forest Resource Management Center, took a stronger line.
The mangrove forest in the area covered more than 40 rai, Mr Wattanachai said.
“The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources has allowed the Phuket Provincial Government to use this area for the benefit of local villagers but must protect the area that has been declared a mangrove forest conservation area. The benefits measures have been discussed with community leaders and all stakeholders in the area,” he said.
“This visit has confirmed the complaint that the protected mangrove area is being exploited. We must see if serious damage has been done or if it has affected the traditional way of life of the community. If it has affected mangrove forests, legal action will be taken. Any invasion of the area by any person will be prosecuted according to the law,” said Mr Wattanachai.