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Conservation in Thailand - Monthly Update March 2012
March was a very busy month for volunteers and staff. We were sad to see a number of long term volunteers leave, but excited to welcome many new volunteers too!
Let me give you an update on the worthwhile work the volunteers have to helping with over the month of March....
Diving Based Projects
Reef Check Survey
During March, we carried out 14 Reef Check Surveys, and due to our large number of volunteers, we collected a lot of data this month. Mostly we had great visibility and calm conditions.
Some highlights of the month were.....
On 1st March we were joined by an underwater videographer who took footage of the volunteers carrying out the surveys (as well as filming them having way too much fun jumping from the top deck of the dive boat!)
On 15th March we dived Thai style! We went out to the local sites by longtail boat! It was a great and different experience.
On 21st March we went to Philey Wall and experienced some very weird water movement! Cold upwelling currents made visibility almost zero, then swimming out of that current, into a different current coming the other direction bringing 15m crystal clear water! Very strange!
On 29th March we went to Shark Point and found a very large abandoned fish trap which had many snappers alive caught inside. The volunteers quickly got to work, cutting out the net, freeing the fish. What a great feeling!
We saw a healthy amount of fish counted at all of the sites this month. We were lucky enough to see many moray eels, some very large and old grouper and hundreds or urchins, which is fabulous for the health of the reef as they eat the algae which can suffocate the corals!
Project AWARE - Dive Against Debris Survey
We were blessed with awesome weather for diving this month and on our Dive Against Debris Surveys we went to 14 different dive sites over 7 dive days and it only rained once!
We collected over 66kg of marine debris. As usual this consisted mainly of fishing gear, as we untangled many metres of fishing line from the corals and sponges, removed nets caught on the reef and cleared out fishing traps.
Once again we found that some of the local sites, which are popular with tourists and day trippers from Ao Nang, were full of food wrappers, plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers, lots of which floats on the surface. We found snorkels and a life vest too. We are hoping that our Anti Trash campaign around Ao Nang will see an improvement in rubbish left by tourists and tour companies.
Our most interesting find this month was an anchor!
Phuket Marine and Biological Centre Monitoring Surveys
We continue with our coral disease monitoring surveys and Linnea is training up more volunteers in the identification of disease. We also now train some volunteers in underwater photography so that we can provide the scientists in Phuket with photos of the diseased corals.
We have now finished preparing the Endangered Species monitoring packs which will be given to all the dive shops in Ao Nang, so that every dive boat that goes out will collect important sighting data on turtles, whalesharks and dolphins.
We are happy to report that we saw many turtles and a pod of dolphins during the month.
Land Based Projects
As we prepare for the rainy season, we have a lot of work to do with APE and our reforestation project. We have to grow over 20,000 trees to plant in a few months when the rains come and provide a more suitable ground for successful planting.
As a result of the number of trees needed, we had the APE team visit us at the Dawn of Happiness and extend our tree nursery. After much work by the volunteers who cleared and levelled some land, we constructed a second nursery.
During the month, we also spent time collecting bamboo, helping to build and APE headquarters and working with the forestry experts from Chiang Mai University in the nursery in Klong Thom, helping them collect and clean seeds for planting.
Beach Clean Ups
We carried out three cleans ups during the month of March. For our first clean up of the month, we decided to clean up Ao Nammao beach, where we are based. We headed along the beach collecting a few bits of plastic food wrappers and bottles, until we came to the area near the pier. Here we hit the jackpot as we collected 114kg of trash in 45 minutes! We decided to come back at the end of the month to this spot and that time collected over 200kg.
This area is front of some very poor shanty houses and where the longtail fisherman keep their boats. Some of the fishermen came up and thanked us, whilst one very young boy went into his house and brought out the rubbish to us!! Even though he missed the point of our clean up, at least he understood that we were taking trash away from his home.
This gesture has a ripple effect and working so closely to our base is very important to encourage positive relations within the local community.
In the middle of the month, we headed to the most beautiful and undeveloped beach in the area known as Long Beach. This is a stretch of white sandy beach fringed by natural forest. With only a few local bamboo bungalow resorts along this beach is remains relatively unspoilt.
This beach is used mainly by locals on the weekends for picnics. We were shocked by the amount of rubbish on this beach. Consisting mainly of food wrappers, glass and plastic bottles, we collected over 1/4 tonne of trash. Of this amount 165kg was recyclable.
In respect of the most interesting items collected, we found a chair, a truck tyre and an umbrella. The most surprising find was one our the Projects Abroad salvage bags which one of the volunteers must have lost overboard on a dive trip....that opened everyone's eyes to how trash travels and ends up in the most unexpected places!
We took the BBQ with us to the beach and so after all that hard work, we all went for a dip in the sea, then ate an amazing lunch cooked on the beach.
The figures for the month of March are:
Total trash collected: 578kg (that's over 1/2 a tonne - wow!)
Total recycled: 289kg
Endangered Species Work
Our monthly visit to the Phuket Marine Biological Centre to work on the Turtle Rehabilitation Project was a fantastic experience as always. We were all super excited when we were shown the 1 week old hatchlings in the breeding pool! They were totally adorable!
Its always hard but rewarding work on this project. We cleaned the holding tanks, scrubbed the turtles shells, removing irritating algae growth and cleaned the wounds of the smaller green turtles. Finally, we watched the vet give vitamin injections to the rehabilitated turtles and check their microchips.
Community Outreach Day
Each month we go into the community as one big group of volunteers from all the projects based in Thailand. This month we headed down to Phuket to help the Asia Children's Foundation to make a safe house for disadvantaged children and orphans. The volunteers and staff worked very hard to paint two buildings, clear a garden and pond and to paint a mural on the garden wall. We finished the day with dinner at a sushi restaurant.
We began our Anti-Trash Campaign this month. The volunteers used their creative ability to design posters encouraging tourists and locals to take their trash home with them from. These posters were then placed around the more popular beaches and rock climbing spots.
Working together with APE we started the Green Award Scheme where local businesses who adopt and support greener and more environmentally aware rubbish disposal and recycling practices are given a certificate to display. As tourism is the key industry here, we are hoping that tourists will chose to spend their money in these shops and restaurants, encouraging other businesses to follow suit.
We celebrated two staff birthdays this month...we surprised Linnea with some of her favourite snacks after diving, followed by a birthday cake made up of a tower of 27 muffins to celebrate each year of her life! On Arm's birthday, we got together with his parents and organised a big party at The Sanctuary Restaurant. We devoured a feast of Thai food and BBQ'd skewers whilst being entertained by a local band.
I had a holiday in Bali the last week of March, so before I left, I invited everyone over to my friend's house for a pool party! It was a great way to say goodbye to some of the volunteers who were leaving Thailand whilst I was away.
Conservation Director, Thailand