This SSF Highlight was written by Aidan Wiktorowicz. Research was provided by Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk
The Blue Economy has promoted a vision of infrastructure led growth of the Ocean Economy. However, coastal development may sometimes be at odds with social and environmental sustainability. We explore the need for inclusive development and environmental management through a case study of coastal development in Thailand. Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk and the Sustainable Development Foundation analyzed the impacts of industry and infrastructure construction on the community of Ban Ao Udom in Chon Buri, Thailand. A summary of their findings is detailed below:
The Ban Ao Udom community, located in Chon Buri Province, employs 3,100 people in the fishery sector. Shrimp, shell, crab, red snapper, and mackerel are the predominant species caught by the Ban Ao Udom community. The region, with close proximity to Pattaya and Bangkok, has been the site of recent development under the 5th and 6th National Social and Economic Development Plans. The Thai government created the ‘Laem Chabang Economic Zone,’ determining Chon Buri to be the industrial center.
Construction of a deep-water port and industrial center began in 1985 with completion of phase I in 1987 and phase II in 2000. The development of industry in Chon Buri reshaped coastal area utilization and greatly impacted maritime ecosystems. Experts estimate that currently 80% of coastal areas are under the jurisdiction of 6 companies. This dramatic shift in Ocean’s use poses significant concerns for local fishers and fisheries. Contamination from construction and shipping has adversely impacted local fish stocks.
The dramatic change in coastal water use toward predominantly commerce and industry has undoubtedly impacted the local environment. First, the construction of bridges and port infrastructure disrupted the region's water currents, contributing to problematic sludge accumulation. Second, dredging and construction activities depleted coastal sand, negatively impacting coral reefs and sea grasses. Rare species, especially jinga shrimp and mackerel, experienced near total decline. Finally, the water and air pollution released by industry adversely affected maritime and human health. Local residents suffered from both low water and air quality, impacting their health and wellbeing.
Chon Buri’s rise as an industrial center created lasting effects on the local Ban Ao Udom community and local fisheries. Regulatory bodies restricted the sea area available to fishers to 20% of the available coastal area. This vast restriction caused over-exploitation as fishing effort was largely unchanged despite a near 80% reduction in fishing area. Initial economic analysis of Ban Ao Udom, prior to the construction of industry, concluded that fishery resources were sufficient to build wealth and create a ‘steady economy.’ However, a later survey estimated that fishery resources declined by 80% following the development of industry. Fishery incomes likewise decreased 30%, while processing capacity was added in order to increase the catch value. Some members of the community have pursued alternative livelihoods following the decline in local fisheries. While the current situation is problematic for local fisheries, the scheduled phase III and proposed phase IV of port expansion may lead to the total eradication of small-scale fisher livelihoods in Ban Ao Udom.
The Laem Chabang Economic Zone epitomizes the Thai economy as a whole, an economy rapidly developing at the cost of high inequality. The story of Ban Ao Udom speaks to a larger trend in Thailand, where social costs and benefits and local voices are often ignored in favor of large-scale infrastructure projects. Proper engagement with communities is required in order to deliver more equitable and sustainable outcomes.
There is hope for a brighter future for the Ban Ao Udom. The Sustainable Development Foundation of Thailand released several proposals to address the adverse effects of the Laem Chabang Economic Zone. First, allowing fishers greater control over area management and strengthening their rights in the region will help reduce encroachment by industrial development. Second, the creation of environmental management to prevent oil spills and the release of waste will help improve coastal ecosystem health. While these two policies appear simple, their implementation in Thailand, a country with many vested interests, may prove extraordinarily difficult.
The case of Ban Ao Udom highlights the negative impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects on local communities, ecosystems, and fishers. As a staple of the Blue Economy, ports and industry clearly produce negative externalities and have the potential to disrupt/eliminate small-scale fishers' livelihoods. The inclusion of local communities and fishers in the initial discussion is necessary to achieve equitable outcomes. During and after the construction of such infrastructure projects, governments should ensure the equitable distribution of benefits. Inclusive, sustainable economic development is the key to unlocking Thailand’s potential.