The environment has always played an important role in Mrigadayavan Palace history. King Rama VI, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, was advised by his doctor to rest in a warm and airy seaside climate. He chose the site for Mrigadayavan Palace due to its easy access to the capital, pleasant beachside environment, and abundant underground freshwater resources. Wildlife such as hog deer lived in the surrounding environment, inspiring the name of “Mrigadayavan”, which means “forest of the hog deer”.
The natural surrounding environment of Mrigadayavan Palace is a beach or coastal forest, with species native to the area. Original environmental features also include seasonal sand dunes, freshwater swamps, and freshwater canals. The use of underground freshwater can be seen by the well close to the beachfront in the Palace gardens.
Photos of Mrigadayavan Palace when it was built show that the original palace had sandy grounds and no green gardens. This means that the current manicured green gardens, along with the topsoil used to create these gardens, were most likely brought in during the restoration of Mrigadayavan Palace. Alien species such as Casuarina and frangipani trees have also been introduced to the Mrigadayavan Palace grounds since its construction. The implementation of the jetties and expanded mangrove forests have also altered the environmental surroundings. Additionally, the construction of the seawall, breakwater, and groynes in 2005 have prevented the natural movement of sand and seasonal creation of sand dunes.
Environmental conservation has also played an important role throughout the history of Mrigadayavan Palace. On May 12th, 1924, King Rama VI issued a proclamation declaring the surrounding Huai Sai area a wildlife-protected zone, which meant that hunting was prohibited in the region. By doing so, King Rama VI created one of Thailand’s first conservation zones.
When the palace was commissioned as a royal heritage site in 1981, the Foundation of Mrigadayavan Palace aimed to restore the palace grounds and natural environment to their original condition in 1924. Since 1981, two restorations have occurred: the first restoration process (1987-1994) and the current restoration process (2013-present). Current environmental restorations include a project with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources to remove man-made coastal structures including the jetties, seawall, breakwater, and groynes, and a creation of a botanical garden that replicates the original beach forest environment.
Through these restorations, the Mrigadayavan Palace Foundation seeks to honor the conservation goals of King Rama VI and serve the environmental policies of King Rama IX. By restoring and conserving the original wildlife habitats and environment, Mrigadayavan Palace honors the conservation zone created by King Rama VI in 1924. Mrigadayavan Palace also serves the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and New Theory Agriculture principles of King Rama IX by working to sustain the beach environment and native species through knowledge and virtue. Soil conservation through the use of vetiver grass and water conservation through protection of natural underground freshwater resources also adhere to King Rama IX’s environmental mission. In these ways, all of the conservation efforts of Mrigadayavan Palace are guided by the wisdom of King Rama VI and King Rama IX.
Mrigadayavan Palace hopes to serve as a case study for sustainable conservation in Thailand by committing to royal development principles, community participation, and evidence-based restoration.
The Mrigadayavan Palace borders the Gulf of Thailand, which is subject to Northeast and Southwest monsoons during different times of the year. These winds vary in strength and influence the direction of currents hitting the coast, resulting in a natural phenomenon called “longshore drift”, which is the lateral movement of sand along the coastline, dependent on the incoming wind direction. In other words, the coastline is not static, but is constantly changing. In the case of Mrigadayavan Palace, there is a net movement of sand from southern parts of the beach to northern parts, and the southern part is then replenished by sand from further down south of the coast.
However, natural disasters like monsoons and storms, as well as rising sea levels due to climate change, have led to severe coastal erosion, encroaching on some parts of the palace that extend onto the beach.
To protect the shoreline and the Palace, the Marine Department helped the Foundation of Mrigadayavan Palace construct man-made coastal structures such as jetties, groynes, breakwaters and a seawall in 2005.
Groynes are located perpendicular to the shoreline and trap sand on their sides. Breakwaters are structures parallel to the shoreline and reduce the impact of large waves on the shoreline, and the seawall protects the Palace by keeping the land closest to the beach from eroding. Jetties, on the other hand, allow seawater to flow inland to water the mangrove forests that Huai Sai Royal Development Study Centre and subsequently the Sirindhorn International Environmental Park implemented within the King Rama VI Military Camp since 1994.
While the coastline behind the structures have been successfully protected, a team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Chulalongkorn University found that the additions, especially jetties, have in fact caused the intrusion of saltwater into the Palace’s groundwater, and led to even more severe erosion and water scarcity and salinity problems for neighbouring areas. From aerial photographs, the beaches on the northern face of coastal structures face severe erosion as sand piles up on the southern side, unable to move northwards.
Overall, the lesson from this decade long experiment shows that when coastal protection measures are improperly designed, constructed and maintained, problems of coastal erosion are exacerbated. The ecological impacts are intertwined with socioeconomic inequalities when coastal structures stop at specific places, such as in front of hotel or properties that can afford to protect their own beaches, whereas the adjacent coast is left to erode. “Solutions” that are limited by economic, jurisdictional, or administrative boundaries, rather than system boundaries that reflect natural processes thus create more problems than answers. A decentralised problem like coastal erosion, with complex influences on surrounding ecological and social processes, therefore cannot be resolved in a piecemeal fashion, but requires protective measures that are integrated, taking into consideration natural processes, power relations, and all stakeholders involved.
Soil samples taken from Mrigadayavan Palace, nearby beach forests, and other surrounding areas strongly suggest that the natural environment of Mrigadayavan Palace is a sandy beach forest. During the restorations of Mrigadayavan Palace, topsoil, alien species, and green gardens were added to the grounds, altering the original environment. The Mrigadayavan Palace Foundation seeks to restore the original environment through projects such as the creation of a botanical garden between the tea house and the King’s entrance. This botanical garden will replicate the original beach forest, complete with a sand dune and native beach forest plant species.