Marine Dept halts mission to clean up 'garbage island'

Marine Dept halts mission to clean up 'garbage island'

Strong winds in the Gulf of Thailand have forced officials to temporarily halt their mission to clean up a "garbage island" drifting near the scenic coastline of Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The Marine and Coastal Resources Department, which is leading the effort to get rid of what it calls "floating rubbish", received a warning from the Meteorology Department about bad weather yesterday and called off the operation for now.

In the latest announcement, meteorologists warned of stronger winds and sea waves as high as two or three metres, said Department of Marine and Coastal Resources' deputy director-general Sopon Thongdee.

His department was cleaning up the rubbish off Prachuap Khiri Khan's Bang Saphan and Bang Saphan Noi districts for a second day, and had removed only some from the sea, he said.

Last Thursday evening, an aerial survey located the 800m x 1km floating mass about eight kilometres east of Koh Talu, a popular shallow water dive site in the province. The garbage is an urgent issue as most of it is plastic waste.

According to Mr Sopon the huge garbage island might be composed of debris from water draining into the sea after the recent floods, especially from Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon provinces, he said.

It is the biggest floating garbage patch ever seen in Thai waters, he said.

He estimated its mass at 100 tonnes.

On Saturday, the garbage was found about 12km away from Prachuap Khiri Khan's Bang Saphan district.

Meanwhile, the tide and the wind had spread the garbage to cover an area of several square kilometres.

Since Sunday, the winds have strengthened.

The winds have also swept the garbage, including plastic and household items, ashore, causing litter on parts of beaches in Bang Saphan and Bang Saphan Noi districts, according to the department.

For the past three days, the rubbish has washed onto the island's beaches, with his staff having to remove it every day, said Thanaphum Charoenphak, a resort operator on Koh Thalu.

Despite worries over the impact the garbage may have on the environment, Mr Sopol said yesterday his department has not yet found any trash caught in in the coral reef off Koh Thalu.

Marine animals are at risk if the problem is not solved soon. Earlier, Mr Sopol said, officials who examined a dead sea turtle found a piece of a plastic bag in its stomach.

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