The tiny island of Koh Samet is home to long pale beaches, forests and beautiful geography, but the fine, white sands of this Thai island and the clear blue waters that surround it have been turned sticky and black by crude oil spilled from a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical.
The spill started Saturday morning, about 20 kilometres southeast of the Map Ta Phut seaport on the southern shore of the mainland. PTT, the state-owned administrator of PTT Global Chemical, tried to downplay the full extent of the leak by claiming that the oil slick had "effectively been dissolved".
This claim proved to be untrue after unrefined crude started blackening the immaculate beaches of Koh Samet, which attracts millions of tourists from around that world, as PTT Global Chemical admitted 50,000 litres of unrefined crude had been spilled into the waters of Phrao Bay.
Making matters worse, Thailand is not capable of handling the oil spill, Deputy Premier Plodprasop Suraswadi conceded to the Bangkok Post. Speaking via a government spokesman, he added that authorities should seek help from nearby Singapore.
For a region identified by Greenpeace Southeast Asia Thailand Programme Manager Ply Pirom as the "nation’s food basket", this news is bleak.
Bleaker still when you realise that this spill is just one of more than 200 spills that have happened in Thai waters in the past three decades, effectively putting the region's ecosystem in the crossfire of big oil companies and meagre oil spill mitigation resources.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia Thailand has been closely monitoring the situation and deployed a rapid response team to document the impact of the spill, particularly in the National Marine Park area that includes Koh Samet.
Greenpeace is now demanding that PTT Global Chemical be held financially liable for the cost of cleaning and restoring the natural environment and is mobilising the public through an online petition. It's time for the Thai government to review its energy policy and put an end to oil drilling and exploration in the Gulf of Thailand.
The paradox of a country known for its staggering natural beauty but still heavily reliant on fossil fuels in its energy policy is counterintuitive. Especially when the availability of affordable, clean, renewable energy is taken into consideration.
It is up to us all to put pressure on policymakers, oil companies and their shareholders to end our reliance on fossil fuels. It may be too late to draw a line in the oil-soaked sands of Koh Samet – as we have in the ice in the Arctic – but we can rally to make this the last oil spill we see.
You can help by signing our petition.
Arin de Hoog is a Media Relations Specialist at Greenpeace International