Death of the beach? Conflict over Songkhla seawall construction

A seawall construction project is in its first phase at Muang Ngam beach in Songkhla Province. The authorities and some local people disagree over the necessity and legitimacy of the project, but it seems that an amendment to the law on Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) has played an important role in provoking the confrontation.

Muang Ngam beach at dusk (Source: Chonrada Noothammachot)

Muang Ngam beach, Singhanakhon District, Songkhla Province, has featured online since the end of April, with the hashtag #SAVEหาดม่วงงาม (Save Hat Muang Ngam) used to register objections to the ongoing construction of 710-metre-long seawall, supposedly to protect the shore from erosion.

On many beaches, seawalls have resulted in the disappearance of the sand. A lot of information was published from both sides as the wall’s foundations were laid in the sand. A change in the law to exempt seawalls from EIA requirements is fueling the local conflict.

What is a seawall?

A seawall or revetment is a coastal construction to prevent wave currents from eroding the shore. It can be built by from stone, wooden logs, sand bags, etc. The materials and the slope of the revetment determine its efficiency and cost.

An example of seawall created by stones (Source: Facebook/Department of Marine and Coastal Resources)

The benefits of a seawall lie in good force absorption, cheap maintenance and easy local management. 

On the bad side, the force of the current will sweep sand away, causing the beach to disappear, construction costs are expensive and they are prone to subsidence over the long term. They also reportedly cause an ‘end-wall effect’, a wave diffraction at each end of the wall which results in erosion in the area nearby.

What is going on at Muang Ngam beach?

Children were playing sand in front of the ongoing seawall construction at Muang Ngam beach (Source: Facebook/Beach for Life)

  • Muang Ngam beach is 7.2 km long, located at Muang Ngam Subdistrict, Singhanakhon District, Songkhla. The beach has a fishing pier and is used as a public recreation space and tourist spot.
  • The seawall construction project at Mu 7 was initiated by the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning.
  • On 27 April, a group calling themselves the ‘Muang Ngam Beach Conservation People’s Network’ filed a petition with the Songkhla Provincial Governor, calling for a halt to the project, and expressing doubts about its necessity, environmental impact and legitimacy.
  • On 1 May, Narit Mongkolsri Vice Governor of Songkhla, went to the beach to observe the project. He referred to a study report that erosion at the beach would be worse without the seawall and said that the project had already passed the required legal process.
  • On 11 May, with construction still going on, 100-200 people gathered at the beach to express their concern over the beach’s disappearance.

Apisak Tassanee, from the beach conservation group ‘Beach for Life’, said that the seawall project began in 2013. 3 public hearings, which many alleged were not inclusive, took place. The seawall project consists of 2 phases: 710 metres and 1,995 metres.

He claims that seawall construction is widely recognized as the ‘death of the beach’

Facts differ

A Beach for Life report questions the necessity for the Muang Ngam seawall. It says that the erosion rate at the beach is 0.5-1.49 metres per year, according to the seawall project study. This rate is low when compared to the erosion rate index of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR). 

The aerial photography shown in the report claims that significant erosion takes place behind the fishing pier, which disrupts the natural sand flow from south to north. As a result, significant erosion occurs on one side and filling on the other.

Aerial photography of the beach shows that the upper part is eroded while the lower part is filled. (Source:Beach for life)

Another cause of erosion is the existing seawall built along the beach to protect the road. The seawall is damaged to some extent which causes the force of the current to reach the road and destroy it.

The report refers to many Thai beaches where end-wall effects require expansion at the 2 ends of the wall. Eventually, the seawall entirely replaces the sandy beach. The cases mentioned are beaches at Pran Buri, Ao Noi and Sai Kaeo.

Apisak says that the erosion at Muang Ngam beach can be solved by restoring the natural sand flow by demolishing the fishing pier if it is not used, and deploying a sand bypass system to transfer the sand. The sea will naturally bring the sand back ashore in the monsoon season.

To prevent erosion, he suggests putting wooden logs on the beach to reduce the wave power. This method has already been implemented there.

Beach for Life’s conclusions go along with suggestions from Sakanan Plathong, a DMCR consultant. After re-surveying, he found that Muang Ngam beach is not prone to heavy erosion. The shape of the beach is subject to seasonal change. The fishing pier also contributes a little to reduced sand flow. 

Padungdech Luepiyapanich of the Songkhla Provincial Public Works and Town and Country Planning Office says that the construction project is a controversial issue, but was initiated in response to a plea from the community as erosion affected their daily lives.

The ongoing construction of the Muang Ngam beach seawall (Source: Facebook/Beach for life)

“The villagers are suffering. People who do not live in the area don’t know it. Villagers are suffering, the road is disappearing. So how will people on the shore get out by the road living here every day? If you go and look, they build a pile of stones to fight the waves every year. The local administration fought, the community fought until they are exhausted, so they asked the central authorities to come and do it.” 

“Restoration, where is anything restored? The earth is warmer, how much has the sea risen since 10-20 years ago? We do nothing, it erodes,” said Padungdetch.

Law causes controversy

An amendment to a national level law is partly responsible for the local confrontation. In December 2013, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) removed seawalls from the category of constructions that require an EIA. Previously, any seawall longer than 200 metres was subject to the EIA process.

Beach for Life and TCIJ report a significant increase in the number of seawall projects after the requirement was lifted. In 2014-2019, 74 seawall projects with total length of 34.88 km were undertaken with an overall budget estimated at 6.9 billion baht. In 2008-2018, the cost per kilometre increased to 117 million baht. 

Source: 
https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/05/87560