Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Koh Kong’s ecotourism island marred by waste pollution

Plastic waste floating on the sea around Koh Sdech island, in the Kiri Sakor district of Koh Kong province. Picture: Keat Soriththeavy
Plastic waste floating on the sea around Koh Sdech island, in the Kiri Sakor district of Koh Kong province. Picture: Keat Soriththeavy

Roughly two tons of waste are being pumped into the sea daily at Koh Sdech, one of Koh Kong province’s most attractive islands for ecotourists, which is also home to more than 700 families.

The island’s residents have been reporting this environmental pollution for years. Many are unaware of the impact of waste pollution, but they say the key fault lies with the local authorities, who have failed to provide adequate waste management facilities on the island.

Generated by residents and tourists, the waste, which includes plastic, is strewn along the coast and flows into the sea.

Van Sarath, a tour guide on the island, said that there used to be a private company collecting waste on the island, but it has since ceased operations.

“Since then, local authorities have done nothing to manage the waste, even though the island has become more of a tourism attraction area,” he said. “People throw waste in landfills and over 80 percent of it ends up in the sea.”

Keat Thany, a resident on the island for more than 30 years, said that the waste pollution has been a long persisting problem since there is no way to properly organize and store the rubbish.

Both of them ask that local authorities install incinerators and bins on the island as soon as possible so that residents and tourists can dispose of their garbage.

Thany worries that without adequate waste management, fewer tourists will visit the island.

Sieng Dara, a resident on the island for more than 10 years, also said that more needs to be done to raise awareness on the negative impacts of waste pollution. “We live in a remote area, so people do not understand this problem,” he said.

According to the district authority, the number of tourists visiting the island has dropped due to COVID-19. The data shows that in 2019, before the pandemic, the total number of tourists visiting was more than 39,000. In 2021, there were a total of 24,918 tourists. 

Plastic waste floating on the sea around Koh Sdech island, in the Kiri Sakor district of Koh Kong province. Picture: Keat Soriththeavy

Say Nget, the administrative director of Kiri Sakor district, told CamboJA that the local authorities are in the process of installing the incinerator, which will hopefully be ready soon to deal with the two tons of waste produced on the island every day.

“We had asked for incinerators and garbage trucks many times, but we have  just received them because the Ministry of Environment prioritizes the densely populated cities and large tourist areas in the province,” he said.

He said the local authorities have instructed three garbage trucks to collect the island’s waste and that they are also looking for donations for more trash bins. He estimates that 60 percent of the waste is so far under control.

Neth Pheaktra, a Ministry of Environment spokesman, said that it is essential for citizens and the government to work together on this issue.

“The ministry has encouraged individuals to engage with local governments to properly manage and pack rubbish,” he said.

Has Han, another tour guide who lives on the island, hopes that issue will be addressed shortly, since the island has been attracting more tourists and needs to be ready to welcome them.

“There isn’t much waste generated by residents. Most of it is produced by tourists,” he said. “Some people come to visit and throw trash into the water because there are not enough trash bins.”

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