Oil-spill recovery will be tough: experts

THAILAND - Academics have predicted a grim scenario for ecological systems hit by the oil spill in the Gulf of Thailand, including those around Koh Samet's Ao Phrao beach.

"It's going to be difficult to rehabilitate the affected areas," Phaithoon Mokkongpai of Burapha University said yesterday.

About 50 tonnes of crude oil leaked from an offshore pipeline on Saturday, spilling into the sea off Rayong.

In a bid to break up the oil slick, some chemicals have been used.

Phaithoon said he believed the use of chemicals was not appropriate because the oil-affected areas were not in the deep-sea zone, and these waters did not flow easily to the open sea.

There was a risk that oil droplets formed through the use of the chemicals would sink onto coral and kill them, he said, adding that ecological systems would then suffer because young aquatic animals and plankton usually live around the corals.

Phaithoon predicted disruption to the food chain and believed the impact would become evident soon.

"Although micro-organisms naturally consume oil, they won't be able to handle [such a] huge amount of oil," he explained.

He said that apart from damage to ecological systems, the oil spill would hurt tourism, the economy and coastal fisheries too.

"This is a big incident," he said, adding that the spill would not have posed such a serious threat if it had happened out at sea.

"But when [oil] reaches the coastal zone, the impacts are serious."

Pichai Sonchaeng, a former dean of Burapha University's Marine Technology Faculty, said the oil spill's impact on natural resources was worrying to everyone.

He urged all parties to quickly determine the exact leakage point, the exact amount of leaked oil and the affected areas, and to develop a model to assess the impacts.

"Then we will have to plan how to rehabilitate the environment and come up with the quickest and best way to do it," he said.