After 33 years of courtroom battle, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has finally won back the legal ownership of Koh Poda island off the southern province of Krabi , thanks to two crucial pieces of evidence — the annual rings of the oldest coconut tree on the island and aerial photos of the island taken in year 1967.
The Appeals Court on Thursday reversed the verdict of the Krabi provincial court and declared the department the rightful owner of the 71-rai scenic island popular among tourists.
The department chief Mr Tunya Netithammakul, accompanied by Pol Cpt Wisanu Chimtrakul, an expert on consumer protection and environment cases of the Department of Special Investigation and a representative from the Plants Research Centre of Chumporn province explained how the case was won at a press conference today.
Koh Poda is within the Nopparatthara-Phi Phi Islands national park in Krabi province.
Pol Cpt Wisanu said that the aerial photos of the island which were taken in the year 1967 showed no signs of land exploitation on the island while the private sector which won the case in the court of first instance insisted that the coconut trees on the island were planted before 1967.
Hence, an expert from the Chumporn Plants Research Centre was brought by the department to prove to the court that the coconut trees were planted on the island after 1967.
The expert made random counts of 12 coconut trees and found out that the oldest coconut tree has only 45 annual rings or 45 years old – a proof that the land plot on the island had not been exploited before 1967 as claimed by the private sector. Annual rings are usually used to calculate the age of a tree.
The DSI officer said that the Sor Kor 1 land right certificate presented to the court by the private sector to claim ownership of the land plot before the year 1967 could be a “flying Sor Khor 1” from a land plot on the mainland and not the one from the island.
Ms Supatra Lertwattanakiart, an official of Chumporn Plants Research Centre, said that the centre used internationally-recognised method in counting the annual rings of the coconut trees and the oldest coconut tree was found to be only 45 years old.
The Nopparathara-Phi Phi Islands national park chief Mr Worapote Lomlim told the media that he was very relieved by the Appeals Court’s verdict after a marathon legal battle dating back to 1985.
“I dare to admit that I could not sleep the night before the court delivered its verdict on Thursday. During the half an hour standing before the court, my hands were cold throughout. I was worried about the outcome of the verdict until the court declared us the winner, I was greatly relieved,” said Worapote.
The department chief Mr Tunya attributed the department’s victory in the Appeals Court to cooperation of several agencies in fighting the case. He admitted that getting all the necessary evidence to convince the court is challenging and an uphill task.
He, nevertheless, said that the case would be used as a precedent by the department to reclaim park lands from the private sector such as the land in Sirinart national park in Phuket.