Thailand's famed Pattaya beach in danger of vanishing

PATTAYA, Thailand Tue Feb 1, 2011 4:54am EST

A general view shows the beach town of Pattaya, nearly 150 km (90 miles) east of Bangkok January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

A general view shows the beach town of Pattaya, nearly 150 km (90 miles) east of Bangkok January 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

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PATTAYA, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - The days of R&R on Thailand's famous Pattaya beach could be numbered.

The eastern city, a magnet for foreign tourists seeking sun, sea, watersports and racy nightlife, is under siege by both man and the forces of nature. One of Asia's most popular beaches is being eaten away at a rate of nearly two metres (yards) a year.

Thai scientists say sea currents and impacts of the city's booming development have intensified coastal erosion and and a beach packed with deck chairs, umbrellas and bikini-clad holidaymakers could disappear in less than five years.

"If we do nothing about it, the beach will disappear in the near future -- you can see that (in) some areas the beach has already gone," said Thanawat Jarupongsakul, a marine and coastal erosion expert at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

The beach area has shrunk to 3.2 acres (1.3 hectares) this year and its width is now is about three to five metres (9.8-16.4 feet), compared to more than 35 metres (115 feet) in 1952.

Pattaya, 150 km (90 miles) east of Bangkok, was a sleepy beach town until the 1970s and started to swell during the Vietnam War when U.S. troops, sailors and airmen flocked there for rest and relaxation.

The city has exploded over the last 15 years.

Hotels, condominiums, golf courses, conference centres, pubs, restaurants and Western fast-food outlets have popped up everywhere, with hundreds of pink-lit "go go" dancing bars and racy discos helping to fuel a thriving local economy.

TOURISM THREATENED

But the tide of tourism money could start to recede if the beach continues to disappear. What worries experts and local businesses is that little is being done to halt the erosion.

The shrinking beach is still hugely popular. Jet-skis race across the water as retired Europeans sip beers and doze in the sun close to sandbags piled up in a seemingly futile effort to slow the rate of erosion.

Weerasak Chiewkij, who rents deck chairs to tourists, said he barely has enough space for his chairs because the beach is getting smaller.

"If we don't fill the embankment with sand, the water will destroy the shore because there is nothing to block it, no sand, no sea wall," he said.

A rescue plan has been drawn up, but it could cost more than 600 million baht ($19 million) to implement.

Thanawat says up to 220,000 cubic metres (7.76 million cubic feet) of sand will be needed immediately to increase the shore width to 40 metres (131 feet). A further 150,000 cubic metres will be required every 15 years to prevent further shrinking.

"This is not new technology, although it might be new in Thailand," Thanawat said.

"Many countries have done this. In the past, we would just build some kind of structure, but they look so ugly and have many negative effects.

"If we have (the) budget, I think this project could be finished in one to two years," he added.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Elaine Lies)

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