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Conservation in Thailand – Monthly Update - November - December 2014
2014 has been an amazing year of great changes for the marine conservation project in Thailand. In the coming months we will strive to grow the biology program into a scientifically sound and productive activity. Working alongside the staff team and the local authorities, we hope to achieve our goals and have a tangible impact on the community, tackling the many problems we see in our everyday life, from mishandled trash to unsustainable fishing practices, careless tourism, etc.
Thailand is a wonderful country caught in the midst of globalization and an explosion of tourism. As much as these assets can bring much wealth to the country, they can also be the cause of great ruin if mishandled, especially for the environment. We will do our best not to see that happen.
In 2014 we had a total of 159 marine conservation volunteers who were also dive certified by us. As they come to the Thailand conservation project, they dived for the first time and had an experience of a life time. Overall, our volunteers collected well over 2000 kg of trash during our beach clean ups and Dive Against Debris.
Their data collection not only contributed to local organizations such as the Phuket Marine Biological Center, but also globally to Ocean Conservancy, Projects AWARE, eSHARK, and the Global Shark Campaign. We restored inland forests, mangrove forests and taught local children, but most of all we connected. We connected with the local school children, community, and with each other.
We ended the year with a very special Christmas dinner at a lovely restaurant in Krabi called “Blue Juice”. All the staff and volunteers enjoyed spending time together, traded secret Santa presents, and stuffed themselves with a scrumptious dinner spread!
During November and December 2014, the biology program was tweaked and perfected, almost reaching its final state. The species list has been revised and extended to include 7 families of resource fish: 3 herbivorous (Surgeonfish, Parrotfish and Rabbitfish) and 4 predatory fish (Jacks, Groupers, Barracuda and Snappers). The addition of Snappers came as a result of them being increasingly sighted during survey dives in great numbers and also because of their presence in the local markets and restaurants.
The species list is at the moment stable and will be considered definitive after conducting the market surveys. The market questionnaires have been made and will be rolled out during volunteer market visits in January 2015. Adaptations to the species list might come as a result of these questionnaires, to reflect the community’s prospective and needs. If future conditions allow it, I would like to look into increasing the specificity of the fish surveys down to recognizing the major species present, not just the genera. This will allow for a much more detailed study of fish distribution, which allows us to understand if and how some species are more susceptible to environmental changes than others.
All volunteers have participated in Dive Against Debris and endangered species data collection, 10 volunteers have passed their fish ID exam and 7 volunteers have been actively inputting resource fish data. Overall, the biology program is almost complete and offers a challenging learning curve for the volunteers. Volunteers understand the importance of passing the fish ID exam with such a high passing score and always strive to get 100% correct answers. All of them take our conservation efforts to heart and understand the importance of gathering reliable data.
In an effort to present some practical results for those who are staying for a shorter while, we are working on putting together some partial data spreadsheets and graphs to have a visual representation of the work they have done.
Data-wise we have been successful at gathering data on all accounts; as of December 31st, 51 data logs for Endangered Species (for Projects Abroad Global Shark Campaign + Shark Guardian), 51 data logs for trash collection and 4 massive reports for Dive Against Debris (Project AWARE) during the King’s “Clean Our Fish Homes” activity, and a whopping total of 81 data logs for Resource Fish Surveys (internal use).
In these past two months, our dive operation certified 9 PADI Open Water Courses, 12 PADI Advanced Open Water Courses and 3 PADI Rescue Diver Course. We went to Phi Phi once or twice a week and visited the local islands about 12 times. We also had a visit to our highlight dive site, or the Shark Point Marine sanctuary. During the courses we have spotted turtles, blacktip reef sharks, leopard (zebra) sharks, seahorses, stingrays and many other fish, shrimp and nudibranchs in all the colors of the rainbow.
We also participated in a 2 day event organized by the Krabi government officials to clean up the reef, in which we collected over 200kg of garbage and lost fishing nets off the reef. Along with our volunteer divers, a total of over 60 Thai divers from all over Thailand worked together to clean up the reef around the Koh Hong Marine National Park area. This special event was co-joined by many other organizations and was particularly dedicated to the King’s 87th birthday.
For the mangrove restoration project, our volunteers worked hard but were extremely fulfilled at Koh Klang with the Mangrove Action Project (MAP). They participated in land grafting and planting mangrove saplings with local villagers and got to explore a bit of the neighboring island lifestyle. Aside from all the hard work, our volunteers had fun navigating while kayaking through the winding mangrove river of Nong Thale. We also started an in house mangrove project at our base camp, where our volunteers worked on species identification and re-planting seedlings that congregated too close together. Just like the work we did with MAP, our volunteers also created hydrological paths, and cleaned up trash around the restoration area at our base camp.
Beach Clean Up
During the Noparathara Beach Survey, our volunteers collected data from various spots around the area, which is heavily used by long-tail boats transporting mainly tourist to nearby islands and dive boats. Some volunteers that are staying longer with the project got to work on the mapping of the survey area to establish specific locations that have been surveyed. In addition to the beach clean ups, volunteers created signboards regarding recycling and waste, which are to be placed on a beach during the cleaning activity with the community.
During our visit to Phuket Marine Biological Center (PBMC), our volunteers helped with cleaning turtle tanks, applied medicine on juvenile turtles, as well as observed tube feeding for a non-eating rehabilitating turtle. At the Phuket Aquarium, our volunteers had a closer look into the fish morphology that they have been learning about during their survey workshops. They completed a scavenger hunt that included answering questions regarding specific fish found there and drawing fish anatomy and markings as they see them swimming through the exhibitions.
We had so much fun at our outreach “Community Day” at a Nuang Klong school, where we set up a dive station and a memory game station. The school children and volunteers got to sing, dance, and play games together. We gave out presents, took memorable pictures and joined the school teachers and staff for a nice local lunch at a restaurant nearby.
For our education and awareness activities, our volunteers initiated a “Cigarette Butts Campaign” in Railey, Krabi Town and at the Tiger Temple. The local community was receptive in the work that we were doing and showed appreciation by asking us questions, and inviting us back to their neighborhood. Along with the Cigarette Butt Campaign, our volunteers also visited the Ban Ao Nang School where they presented the children with a marine food chain lesson. The children got to learn about the link between us and our food source from the sea.
In November, we had a special visit from the Shark Guardian crew. They presented a workshop regarding the status of shark population around the world and in Thailand. We learned so much about shark biology from them and had so much fun during their visit.
Krabi Magazine Publication
In December we were published in the December issue of the Krabi Magazine with an article written by one of our volunteers, Amy Solomon. Her article was titled “Pad Thai in the Mosquito’s Playground - My First Impression of Thailand” and it illustrates her experience in Thailand while participating with our marine conservation project.