The beaches of Preah Sihanouk province, Cambodia’s main seaside tourist draw, have been voted some of the world’s worst in terms of environmental and cultural protection and sustainability.
The survey, conducted by the National Geographic Society and set to appear in the November/December issue of the group’s magazine, evaluated 99 coastal destinations around the world.
Preah Sihanouk ended up in the “Bottom Rated” category, with the fourth-lowest score of all sites surveyed.
Only beaches in Dubai, New Jersey’s North Shore in the US, and two US Gulf Coast beaches–devastated by the recent oil spill there–finished lower.
The society based its list on the assessments of 340 independent experts, who ranked the destinations based not only on their beauty, but also their environmental quality, cultural integrity and management.
Preah Sihanouk’s beaches were marked down because of problems with corruption in the development process, poor planning and waste management problems.
One of the experts who made up this year’s panel was writer and journalist Elizabeth Becker, author of “When the War Was Over,” who is currently writing a book on the travel industry. Ms Becker said she hoped the international attention would help resolve these problems.
“Sometimes authorities are genuinely surprised by the poor scores and work to redeem themselves. Other times these are tough issues that authorities would rather not address and the low scores force the issue,” she wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Sboang Sarath said the area’s beaches were currently well managed, though he admitted this had not always been the case.
“We have organized the beach well. In the past we did not organize it well,” he said. “The sewage system is in place…. The government has decided correctly on all development projects.”
Tek Vannara, program manager in charge of eco-tourism at the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, said sustainable tourism had grown in Cambodia recently but still faced problems.
“In terms of waste management and environmental management, it is still limited and has some problems,” he said.
Three beaches in the area–O’Tres Beach in Preah Sihanouk City, Ream Beach in Prey Nop district, and the island sands of Koh Rong Samleon–recently appeared on a Forbes magazine list of the 22 best beaches in Asia.