Thailand: Enforcement needs sting to save the Rays
23rd October 2016;
After a preliminary examination showed that the spate of deaths of endangered Giant Stingrays (Urogymnus polylepis) was most likely linked to poisonous discharge from an ethanol factory, the relevant state agencies must now take action against the alleged polluter and work to prevent the problem from being repeated.
On Friday, the Pollution Control Department said the department presumed the death of the Stingrays was a result of high levels of ammonia from waste discharged from Rajburi Ethanol in late September.
The river led the discharged waste to Samut Songkhram which affected natural habitats in early October, causing hazardous effects. A number of Stingrays, along with other fish, were subsequently found dead in the Mae Klong River.
The incident shows environmental issues cannot be treated as isolated cases because they can affect all of us. Natural resources such as air and water are shared by everyone. Pollution in one location can be harmful to inhabitants on a much larger scale, as was the case here. The case cannot be dismissed or ignored simply because there have been no human casualties.
After the preliminary findings, the department said it plans to take legal action against the alleged polluter.
Let’s just hope the incident isn’t swept away from the spotlight any time soon. The case has to be pursued vigorously to set an example for other factories sprouting up as part of Thailand’s quest for industrial growth.
The death of the Stingrays is only the tip of the iceberg. It exposes the bigger issue of insufficient control over waste discharge from factories. Public waterways should be preserved because they serve as the community’s bloodline, an essential part of the agriculture-based society in Thailand.
The case also shows people’s inability to balance economic development with environmental health. Industrial development does not necessarily come at the expense of nature but, as is the case here, it happens too often.
There is an old saying that goes: “In Thailand, there is rice in the field and fish in the river.” Unfortunately, in this case instead of living fish, there are high amounts of ammonia waste in Thailand’s rivers.
Regardless of what the industries may say, the incident shows they have not done enough to prevent it.
Even without this case, people have been unkind to nature far too long. Freshwater Stingrays have been rapidly declining in Thailand.
Stingrays can grow to two metres in length and can weigh as much as 600kg. The global population of Giant Freshwater Stingrays has declined between 60-80% in the past 30 years. Their habitats range from rivers in the Central region of Thailand, to the Mekong Delta and Borneo.
Thailand has lost 90% of its Freshwater Stingray population in those three decades. It would be shameful if we failed to preserve one of the world’s largest cartilaginous fish.
There is now a 90% chance that the fish will become extinct in Thailand in the next 50 years if no serious protective measures are implemented.
The Central region’s rivers have reportedly grown increasingly polluted, which would affect the Giant Freshwater Stingray. Animal health is an important indicator of the environment’s well-being. However, past cases of mass fish deaths show that it’s always difficult to pin down a culprit.
This time around, the Pollution Control Department and related agencies should show that they will forcefully address the matter.
There are hundreds of factories which could discharge toxic substances into public waterways or emit pollution into the atmosphere every day.
According to PCD’s Thailand Pollution Report from 2015, 9.59 million cubic metres of community wastewater were produced each day at the national level. Only 26.9% went through wastewater treatment before being released into the environment.
Unfortunately, nearby communities currently do not have the power to examine these factories because there is no legal requirement for the factory to make data on pollutant levels available to the public.
Currently, factories are required to submit pollution-related information only to government agencies such as the Industrial Works Department.
Communities should be able to play a more active role in protecting their homes or in holding industry accountable for destructive environmental incidents. The community itself could also monitor activities to prevent waste dumping.
The government should provide supportive laws and requirements to strengthen communities while taking serious action against polluters to show that the destruction of the environment will not be tolerated.