A cleanup worker throws an absorption pad into the surf on Ao Prao beach.
I went back to Ao Prao beach Friday to photograph the continuing oil spill cleanup. The beach, which was covered in black gooey oil Tuesday, looked a lot better Friday. There was still oil on the sand, but it was spots rather than a coating of oil and much smaller amounts of oil were washing up on the south end of the beach.
Hundreds of people were working to restore the beach, some using table spoons to pick up small drops of oil, others using trowels to pick up slightly bigger drops of oil. Workers putting down absorption pads, to soak up the oil, here and there, tossing the lightweight pads into the surf where they bobbed in the waves and then washed ashore. Containment booms, buffeted by the waves, broke free and snaked across the beach and through the ocean waters.
A worker tries to hold onto a containment boom in the heavy waves.
Tuesday, the workers were mostly Thai military personnel and some from the PTT, the oil company whose pipeline caused the leak and there was an air of somewhat organized chaos. By Friday, Thai military still provided most of the muscle, but there were people from the oil company, community volunteers, and students. Organized chaos had been replaced by a sense of permanence with chow lines, first aid tents and media work space.
Although the beach looked a lot better, I am concerned that the cleanup is only on the surface. Workers digging into sand, which on top looked clean, struck oil and tar just a few inches under the surface.
I don't know the mechanics of oil spill cleanup very well, but I would imagine that at some point either all the oil under the sand will come to the surface or all of the sand has to be replaced. And no one has really talked about the impact on sea life in the area. This is in the midst of rich fishing grounds and the fisherfolk in the area are rightly concerned about what will happen to their livelihood.
A worker uses a trowel to pick up small pieces of oil.