Against the tide: Thai ‘floating temple’ defies coastal erosion
SAMUT CHIN, THAILAND: As the sea water slowly rose around his temple and his neighbours fled inland, Thai abbot Somnuek Atipanyo refused to budge and is today a symbol of the fight to restore the country's fast-eroding coastlines.
A dangerous combination of climate change, industrial farming and rapid urbanisation are endangering the Gulf of Thailand's coasts, stripping away precious mangrove trees and leaving some buildings surrounded by sea water.
In the 30 years since the sea water started encroaching, most of the 51-year-old monk's neighbours in the fishing village of Samut Chin have moved several hundred metres inland to rebuild their wooden homes.
Standing in his saffron robes near his monastery on stilts - dubbed the "floating temple" - Venerable Somnuek pointed out to sea at the spot where the local school once stood.
"This temple used to be in the middle of the village," he told AFP in Samut Chin, an hour south of Bangkok.
"If we moved it, people wouldn't even know there had ever been one here," he said of the temple, accessible only by a small footbridge today.
These shores were once protected by extensive mangrove forests - the Gulf of Thailand boasts some of the largest in the world - a natural defence against coastal erosion thanks to their extensive roots that stabilise the shoreline.
But it has been a losing battle to preserve them as much have been cleared for shrimp and salt farms, along with new houses and hotels that have popped up. Climate change is also having an impact: Stronger waves and more ferocious monsoons have wiped out mangroves.
HIGHER THAN BEFORE
"The waves and tides are higher than before," said Mr Thanawat Jarupongsakul, who advises Thailand's government on its policy to combat erosion.
Further erosion has stopped for now on Ven Somnuek's stretch of coast but there is little hope his temple will ever see dry ground again.
But the flooding has brought one unexpected advantage: Dozens of tourists that flock to the so-called floating temple for Instagram-worthy selfies.
"The fight against coastal erosion has brought fame," village head Wisanu Kengsamut said. - AFP
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