Fight continues over dredging of Ao Kung

PHUKET: Local conservationists hoping to protect the large coral reef in Ao Kung in Pa Khlok, on Phuket’s east coast, have petitioned Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew to carefully reconsider the outcome of a public meeting held where a majority of local residents, mostly fishermen, voted to approve dredging in the bay.

Pradit Phuangket, leader of the Baan Ao Kung Mangrove Forest Conservation Group, along with supporting members of the group yesterday (Feb 9) submitted to Governor Narong a formal objection to the outcome of the meeting, also held yesterday.

Governor Narong received the letter in person, accompanied by officials from the Phuket Provincial Ombudsman’s Office, and as usual several other related agencies.

Mr Pradit said that the meeting yesterday was “a truly unfair forum for stakeholders”.

At the meeting a majority of the local residents present, mostly local fishermen, voted in favour of the dredging.

“We submitted a letter to Governor Narong on Nov 1 last year to object to the results of an expert aerial photographic interpretation and to ask for reconsideration of the dredging of Ao Kung by taking all facts into account and 10 additional issues,” Mr Pradit said.

“But until today, there has not been a letter of acceptance to clarify the facts from the Phuket Provincial Office in any way,” he added.

Governor Narong assigned Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Panapong to look into the complaint.

The meeting yesterday was conducted by the Office of Waterway Development and Maintenance 3, under the Bureau of Waterway Development and Maintenance of the Marine Department, along with the Ministry of Transport.

The Waterways Development and Maintenance Office 3 sent public invitations to join the meeting on Feb 1.

Present at the meeting were Phuket Marine Office Chief Nachaphong Pranit, Pa Klok Mayor Panya Samphaorat, representatives of local government offices and about 180 local residents attended the meeting.

At the meeting the attendees were shown presentations of the dredging plans, including the location and the operating times and the size of the dredging units.

“Most locals agreed that dredging is required for the convenience of fishing boats,” said a report by the Phuket office of the Public Relations Department (PR Phuket).

Chet Pantip, former village headman of Moo 9 Pa Khlok, said that fishing boats had difficulty accessing the “port” in Ao Kung at low tide.

“We therefore submitted a request to the municipality requesting the dredging of Ao Kung, which is a public water area,” he said.

“There have been several rounds of hearings of public opinions in which the majority agreed to take action. Therefore, the Marine Department should now conduct dredging,” Mr Chet added.

“For some groups that are concerned about the environment and the nearby mangrove forests, according to the surveys by the relevant authorities, the examination of the aerial photographs have shown there will be no  impact,” he said.

In 2018, the local environmental conservation group won a reprieve against the construction of a B450 million “Ao Kung Marina and Sports Complex” to be built at the bay, after Seaview Land Co Ltd, acting on behalf of Enrich Consultant Co Ltd, retracted its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) application.

The retraction followed Norraphat Plodthong, Phuket Governor at the time, calling for a new public hearing to be held on the project after dire concerns were raised over the devastating effect dredging a channel there may have on an aquatic field of corals nearby. 

Ao Kung is home to a large reef comprising a variety of different corals. The small island in the bay features so much coral that it is called Koh Hei, literally ’Coral Island’. 

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