Towards the tide: Thai ‘floating temple’ defies coastal erosion

This aerial photograph taken on March 9, 2019 reveals a view of a Buddhist temple remoted by coastal erosion in Samut Chin village, off the shore of Samut Prakan. AFP / Jonathan Klein

Samut Chin, Thailand:  As sea waters slowly rose round his temple and his neighbours fled inland, Thai abbot Somnuek Atipanyo refused to budge and is in the present day an emblem of the combat to revive the nation’s fast-eroding coastlines.

A harmful mixture of local weather change, industrial farming and speedy urbanisation are endangering the Gulf of Thailand’s coasts, stripping away treasured mangrove timber and leaving some buildings like Somnuek’s surrounded by sea water.

Within the 30 years for the reason that waters began encroaching, most of his neighbours within the fishing village of Samut Chin moved a number of hundred meters inland to rebuild their wood houses.

Standing in his saffron robes close to his monastery on stilts — dubbed the “floating temple” — the 51-year-old monk factors out to sea on the spot the place the native faculty as soon as stood.

“This temple was in the midst of the village,” he tells AFP in Samut Chin, about an hour south of Bangkok.

“If we moved it, folks would not even know there had ever been one right here,” he says of the temple, accessible solely by a small footbridge in the present day.

These shores had been as soon as protected by intensive mangrove forests — the Gulf of Thailand boasts a few of the largest on the earth — a pure defence in opposition to coastal erosion due to their intensive roots that stabilise the shoreline.

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Nevertheless it’s a been a shedding battle to protect them.

Replanting within the ‘coronary heart’

Mangrove forests have been cleared for intensive growth of shrimp and salt farms, together with new homes and motels which have popped up due to a growth growth in latest many years.

Thailand misplaced virtually one third of its huge coastal mangrove forests between 1961 and 2000, in line with a report from the nation’s Division of Marine and Coastal Sources and the UN Surroundings Programme.

Local weather change can also be having an impression: stronger waves and extra ferocious monsoons have worn out mangroves within the Gulf of Thailand, which is very susceptible as a result of its waters are so shallow.

“The waves and tides are larger than earlier than,” mentioned Thanawat Jarupongsakul, who advises Thailand’s authorities on its coverage to fight erosion.

Asian and Caspian coastlines are the 2 areas on the earth most affected by coastal erosion, in line with a examine printed final 12 months within the scientific journal Nature.

It is a world downside: tens of 1000’s of sq. kilometres of land have been misplaced from coastal erosion around the globe — between 1984 and 2015 the equal of the floor space of Haiti was misplaced, the examine mentioned.

In Thailand 1 / 4 of the nation’s shores — or about 700 kilometres (500 miles) — are eroding, some “severely”, in line with information shared with AFP by the Division of Marine and Coastal Sources.

Now there’s a push to revive Thailand’s treasured mangrove ecosystem by a nationwide voluntary tree replanting scheme, together with close to Somnuek’s island monastery.

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On a latest sunny afternoon, scores of individuals spent the day wading chest-deep within the sea to replant mangrove timber.

Clad in headscarves and hats, they gingerly attain down into the water to plant younger saplings alongside strains of bamboo poles that assist provide some safety in opposition to the waves.

“This challenge is named ‘Planting a forest in folks’s hearts,'” mentioned Wason Ditsuwan, who runs this system.

Arrange in 2016 by Bangkok metropolis authorities, the challenge has to this point replanted 84 acres of mangroves throughout the nation.

Temple selfies

Wason is hoping his challenge will succeed the place others have failed.

Almost 10 years in the past, authorities adviser Thanawat helped residents in Samut Chin replant mangrove timber however some areas had been too far gone to get well.

“Even should you plant a number of mangroves, it can’t assist,” he mentioned.

One other technique is to drill pylons of cement into the seabed — and on the shoreline itself — to behave as an alternative to the mangrove roots.

This has confirmed profitable to this point within the vacationer city of Pattaya additional alongside the coast, the place the pylons have helped to reclaim a number of metres of seashore.

Nevertheless it’s a race to maintain up with speedy growth alongside the shore, Thanawat mentioned.

As for Somnuek’s stretch of coast, although additional erosion has stopped for now, there may be little hope his temple will ever see dry floor once more.

However the flooding has introduced one sudden benefit: dozens of vacationers that flock to the so-called floating temple for Instagram-worthy selfies.

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“The combat in opposition to coastal erosion has introduced fame,” village head Wisanu Kengsamut mentioned.