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Thailand's coast struggles to balance development with sustainability

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(Read caption) The pristine coast of Raya Island, Thailand, faces threats.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The islands that dot Thailand’s Andaman coast are renowned for their pristine beaches and turquoise waters. But many of these once untouched shorelines are now littered with garbage and sewage, as the drive to increase tourism has led to rapid and reckless expansion. Now, more locals are hoping to lead the way in preserving unspoiled areas with sustainable development.

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Koh Lipe, one of the southernmost islands on the brink of a tourism boom, is currently struggling with questions of how to preserve its delicate ecosystem. Despite being relatively remote, the quiet island has seen a dramatic increase in visitors over the past five years. Anucha Sarthong-in, owner of the eco-friendly Bila Beach Resort, says foreigners are acquiring much of the land to build large resorts with seemingly little concern for the environmental consequence.

Mr. Anucha built his resort’s basic bungalows using bamboo he imported via long-tail boat from a relative’s farm in rural Malaysia. Completed in 2009, the resort occupies a little under an acre of land with three private bungalows and one dorm-style room. Bila was constructed on a secluded beach and its bungalows are nestled into the jungle’s sloping hills. Water conservation is taken seriously; waste-treatment facilities prevent sewage from draining into the ocean. Anucha hopes that more foresight will go into the island’s planning so that more locals will be able to hold on to their land and preserve what is left of their natural resources.