Fears for future of Ngapali Beach as authorities permit sand excavation

Hoteliers at Ngapali in southern Rakhine State have warned that beaches in the area could be irrevocably damaged unless the authorities stop allowing sand to be taken for construction projects.

Local authorities have formally allowed construction firms to take sand from three beaches in the area, in apparent violation of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism’s Directives for Coastal Beach Areas.

Photos provided to The Myanmar Times in recent weeks, including on March 11, show privately owned trucks taking sand from several beaches at Ngapali. Hoteliers in the area said sand is being taken both day and night.

Oliver E Soe Thet from Laguna Lodge described the problem as a “grave disaster in the making” that was already annoying tourists.

“It will affect the beauty of the beach and destroy the whole ecosystem forever,” said Mr E Soe Thet, who is also a former adviser to the government on environmental issues in coastal Rakhine State.

“The trucks are also going on the beach very close to tourists on their sunbeds and honking their horns … It is just to make some quick money and short-sighted.”

Another hotelier whose property is close to where sand is being taken said the beach had been “clearly eroded”. Recently eight trucks have been taking up to a total of 50 truckloads a day from this single beach, said the hotelier, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from local authorities.

“Sometimes it stops and you think, thank goodness. But then it starts again. Wait until the rainy season when there is nobody here to witness it – it will really take off, even on the main Ngapali beach,” said the hotelier.

“Certainly there is less sand. As a result the sea is coming in much more – even some of the coconut trees have fallen down. I’m not an environmental expert, I just manage a hotel, so I can’t say how long it will be until there is no beach left.

“But Ngapali will not be Ngapali if it continues. A lot of investment has been put into hotels here but it’s just such a pity to spoil the environment.”

The hotelier said the sand was being sold for K60,000 a truckload for use in local construction projects, while local labourers are getting K5000 a day to fill the trucks with sand.

This makes it cheaper than darker sand taken from Thandwe River, which is sold by the government.

The taking of sand from the beach is not a new issue. In December 2013, The Myanmar Times reported that the Rakhine State government had issued a stern warning to Max Myanmar for allegedly pumping sand from Ngapali beach for use in construction. The company was eventually cleared of wrongdoing.

Photos published by The Myanmar Times at the time clearly showed sand being taken illegally from the beach, although it was not clear who owned the trucks. Some resorts have taken sand to backfill concrete beachfront walls or to build up low-lying areas of hotel compounds, while it has also been used on local construction sites, despite sea sand generally not being suitable for use in reinforced concrete structures because of its high chloride content.

Thandwe township administrator U Than Zaw Han said the authorities had granted permission to construction firms to take sand from three beaches in the area: Zeephyukone, Got and Linntha.

“The Rakhine State government gave permission to [use sand from these beaches] for regional development, such as construction projects,” he told The Myanmar Times.

On the apparent conflict with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism directive, he said that the constitution grants the regional government the right to issue orders related to regional development.

The Department of Water Resources and Department of Environmental Conservation and Forestry inspected the sites to ensure the environmental impact of taking the sand is minimised, he added.

Meanwhile, a “Ngapali Beach Conservation Committee”, of which U Than Zaw Han is a member, has been “watching out for the digging of sand in unpermitted places”.

Introduced in 2004 to manage development at Myanmar’s beach resorts in line with the Myanmar Hotels and Tourism Law, the Directives for Coastal Beach Areas explicitly forbid the “digging of beach sand”.

A Thandwe-based Ministry of Hotels and Tourism official confirmed that the ministry had prohibited the taking of sand from the beach, but said it only applied to hotels and guesthouses.

“We had forbidden digging sand … in the beach areas because it could be destroying the beauty of nature and environment,” U Win Maung Maung said on March 11.

“We can control tourism-related development, such as limiting the height of hotels and keeping the beach clean. But this case [taking sand] depends on the respective authorities,” he said.

He added that the three sites had been chosen to keep the impact on the environment to a minimum, after consulting with “the respective professional experts”.

One hotelier on the main Ngapali beach said he was unconcerned about the impact.

“They allowed the digging of sand for use in the construction of roads, bridges, clinics, hospitals and schools at villages, not for commercial use,” said U Phoe Yee Aung from Memento Hotel. “But we need to make sure that we maintain these resources because that is why tourists visit in the first place.”

Mr E Soe Thet said there were other sources of sand in the area that could be used to supply construction projects.

“Linthar beach is very narrow and flat so it is worse to take sand from there than other areas. Very quickly there will only be rock left,” he said. “It would not harm anyone if the sand was taken from north of Thandwe River, as well as south of the Salone villages. The government should do a proper environmental impact assessment.”

Source: Myanmar Times. Date:  13 March 2015