Dugong marks plastic tragedy

Dugong marks plastic tragedy

The tragic death of Marium, the baby dugong, is a testament that more efforts are needed to deal with plastic waste.

The country is mourning the loss of the eight-month-old dugong whose death was announced on the the Facebook page of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources early yesterday. Marium was pulled from a no-hunting zone on Koh Libong to the nursery tank on Wednesday out of concern for her safety, with torrential rain and rough seas forecast for the Andaman Sea. The dugong, according to a team of veterinarians who monitored her, was not well at the time. Her condition deteriorated and she eventually died.

An autopsy confirmed she died of shock and other causes and that examiners found several pieces of plastic in her intestine. The National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department will release more details later.

Marium, an Arabic name meaning "lady of the sea", created a public sensation when she was found ashore on the Krabi beach in April. She was later moved to a better habitat, Trang's Koh Libong which is full of sea grass, as veterinarians closely monitored her movements. There was hope that she might return to the wild once she was strong enough. She was the first dugong known to be cared for by humans in Thailand. The other young dugong was found later this year and named Yamil.

The plastic waste that lined Marium's stomach echoes the seriousness of the problem of plastic waste discarded in Thai seas. The waste has infiltrated into a place once known as a safe zone for dugongs, not to mention seas in other parts of the country.

The country was shock in June last year when about 80 plastic bags took the life of a pilot whale off the southern coast. Since then, there has been much talk about the need to reduce plastic waste but action is more than sluggish with the government's sheer reluctance to issue stronger policy and battles afoot on this kind of waste, especially single-use plastic bags.

Thailand is the sixth-worst contributor to marine debris in the world, and the fourth in Asean after Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. It is known that a single piece of plastic can take over 500 years to degrade. According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), the country produces about 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste per year.

In response to rising concerns about the amount of plastic waste, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha earlier this year pledged the country will reduce marine debris by 50% by 2027. The prime minister unveiled his aspiration after the National Resources and Environment Ministry promised that by 2030 the country will recycle all its locally produced plastic.

The PCD said it is looking to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in 2022, followed by single-use plastic cups and straws three years later, while boasting about "success" in its campaign to reduce plastic waste, especially the 80% decrease in plastic rings used in drinking water bottle caps thanks to the "cooperation" of major companies. With regard to single-use plastic bags, the agency insisted it would still maintain a voluntary action stance which it claims has paid off. Yet that action plan appears to be too slow compared to the magnitude of the problem.

Whereas the state is clumsy, the private sector is more progressive. The Mall group which operates The Mall, Paragon, EmQuartier, Emporium, and others is a prime example. The group, despite heavy competition among retail businesses made a bold move in early July when it stopped handing out free one-time use bags to customers. Those without bags are asked to pay one baht for each bag they want for their purchase.

Now there are reports that 15 business establishments have followed suit, if only partially. From this month on, each establishment has designated every 15th of the month as "no plastic bag day", meaning all customers are requested to pay one baht for one plastic bag.

Paying for a plastic bag is common in advanced countries as they care for the environment. The premature death of young Marium should make the government, particularly the PCD, aware of the need to go beyond voluntarism in the case of plastic bags to achieve the goal of lowering plastic consumption.

Stronger policies should be a remedy. Unless the government intensifies the efforts, the country cannot cope with the problem in time.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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