Given these numbers, it seems that the islands main industry, tourism, is thriving and growing at a rapid rate. So what is it that draws this incredible amount of tourists and expats to this little island in the south of Thailand? To paraphrase former US President Bill Clinton’s successful campaign phrase – it’s the environment, stupid.
Whether its the sandy beaches of Phuket’s west coast, or the smaller tropical islands like Koh Phi Phi, it is clear that people come here for the beaches. The most iconic promotional shots of Phuket infallibly include a clear emerald green sea lapping against a pristine beach with a longtail boat resting on the sand.
But is this postcard image really accurate as we enter 2018? Many residents and tourists would likely say no, it isn’t. As development ploughs ahead at breakneck speed, well outpacing the underlying infrastructure’s ability to cope, it’s become clear that Phuket can no longer claim to have pristine beaches and clear waters.
In fact it seems that Phuket’s natural attractions are endangered on every front: Coastal land encroachment by shady property developers and aided by corrupt officials; mangroves and forests being chopped down for wood and land acquisition; raw sewerage being pumped directly into the sea from an overworked or nonexistent wastewater treatment system; tourist boats dropping anchors on delicate corals and hordes of scuba divers and snorkellers damaging reefs; endless tons of plastic rubbish strewn about the entire island – the list goes on.
In the relentless drive for growth and wealth, Phuket has forgotten what made it an attractive place to visit in the first place – its natural beauty – and if this reckless development continues unabated we will be left with and island full of condominiums and hotels, sitting cheek by jowl, only to find that the tourists have moved on to greener pastures.
As the famous Cree Native-American saying goes: Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realise we cannot eat money.