BANGKOK (AP) – Thais flocked to rivers and lakes on Friday evening to launch small floats adorned with flowers and candles at an annual festival honoring the water goddess, with thousands of small boats finishing by obstructing and polluting the country’s waterways.
Within hours, the workers began trawling the rivers to fish for the offerings, as paying homage to the deity is proving more and more dangerous for the environment.
The Loy Krathong festival allows believers to symbolically float their misfortunes on “krathongs” and start another year of life with a clean slate. The festival is celebrated on the night of the full moon of the 12th lunar month, which traditionally marks the end of the rainy season.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a prominent Thai marine biologist, said the priority remains to get people to stop using harmful materials such as styrofoam – styrofoam – for their floats because they cause the most damage to their floats. water and aquatic life. The number of endangered sea creatures found dead on land, which he says stems from the ocean litter problem in Thailand, doubled from 2017 to 2020.
Campaigners have noted a change in people’s behavior over the decades, indicating a growing awareness of the damage caused by krathongs. The total number of krathongs collected in Bangkok has fallen from over 900,000 in 2012 to just over 490,000 last year, and there has been an even greater reduction in the number of polystyrene floats, from 131,000 to less than 18,000 during the same period.
Even so, some conservationists advocate a more drastic solution.
“We need to revolutionize the practice, allowing the ecosystem of rivers to be restored,” said Tara Buakamsri, country director for Thailand of the environmental group Greenpeace. “We shouldn’t let go of floats, because although they are made from natural materials, their quantity exceeds what rivers can naturally support.”
“We depend on clean water for our livelihoods and Loy Krathong’s goal should be to protect and rejuvenate our rivers without putting anything in them. “
Sales of materials for krathongs have been slow this year due to the pandemic, said Nopparat Tangtonwong, a vendor at Pak Klong market famous for selling flowers.
“COVID-19 is slowing the economy, so people would rather save their money and float online instead,” she said.
At the same time, kids aren’t interested in banana leaf floats, the main natural alternative to styrofoam, she said. “They prefer sophisticated floats made from ice cream cones and bread because they can feed the fish at the same time. “
Such an approach is not helpful, said Wijarn Simachaya, president of the Thailand Environment Institute. “If you float somewhere without fish, these floats will cause pollution in the water. It is also difficult to pick them up, as the bread soaks up the water and flows into the river. “
“In addition, sellers usually put chemical dyes in these floats, which is harmful to the water,” he said.
Banana leaves are the best material in krathong because they don’t break down too quickly and, when collected, can be used to make fertilizer, Wijarn said.
“Making a virtual celebration of Loy Krathong is another good solution to avoid environmental damage, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, but I don’t think it can satisfy people’s way of life, because they still want enjoy the festival, ”he said.
Late Friday night, after people got rid of their worries, city workers came out to pick up a sea of floats that drifted down the canals and down the Chao Phraya River before decomposing and contaminating the river. water.
Dozens of small boats traveled along the river, each carrying around half a dozen people with hand nets. The boats then transported their catch to a moored mothership, where it was dumped into a large mulching machine, compacted and transported by garbage trucks to land in a landfill.
“We hope that this year the number of kratongs made with styrofoam will continue to decrease and be lower than last year. And we will finish our clean-up operation before 5 am, ”said Chatree Wattanakhajorn, a senior official in Bangkok.