Thailand Marine Conservation Project

by : Projects Abroad

With the new project-dedicated website now up and running, I feel very proud and privileged to be writing the very first monthly update of the Projects Abroad Marine Conservation Project here in Ao Nang, Thailand.

The project, which has been running since May 2005, has grown over the year and a half since its conception, into an exciting and constructive project benefiting the environment and local communities within the Andaman Sea and Krabi province.

As this is the first monthly update I feel I should recount the fantastic achievements of the past volunteers before beginning to report on the current position of the project. After reviewing the records of the activities of all the volunteers that have passed through Ao Nang since May 2005 to December 2006, the figures speak for themselves as to how valuable your efforts have been.

Over 18,500 mangrove seeds and saplings were planted, helping to rehabilitate four areas of badly degraded mangrove forest, previously cut down for the land to be turned into shrimp farms. 8 tonnes of rubbish were collected between April and December 2006 from six local beaches and islands, helping to keep these beaches free of dangerous, polluting and unsightly debris, and preventing much of it from being washed back into the sea and causing harm to the marine environment. Between May and December 2006, over 600kg of debris were removed from the sea reducing the stress placed on the delicate reef ecosystems and helping to preserve many marine animals that were at risk of becoming entangled in the lost fishing nets and lines.

As well as these vital practical conservation efforts volunteers also contributed by carrying out many Reef Watch surveys of the local reefs, data which was then given to the Phuket Marine Biological Centre for further analysis on the changing conditions of the reefs within the Andaman Sea.

So, 2006 ended on a high note with the volunteers having an afternoon dive, dinner aboard the Navada and then a night dive on Christmas Eve, and two dives on Christmas Day followed by a big roast feast at a local English man's restaurant. The volunteers then went on a canoe trip through some mangroves and spectacular caves on the 30th before seeing the New Year in at the always friendly and popular drinking hole - the Umbrella Pub in Ao Nang.

And so, on to 2007 - a new year that I'm sure will see the project progressing further as plans developed towards the end of last year are fully implemented, the monitoring and ecosystem rehabilitation programmes continue, and research into new exciting projects gets underway.

I'll begin with the reef monitoring programme that we began towards the end of November with the four volunteers that were with us at that time. It is a six-week programme that develops volunteers' marine observation and survey skills alongside crucial buoyancy control so as not to damage the reefs that we are monitoring. Jason, one of the volunteers that completed the full programme just before leaving the project to go on a live-a-board trip to the Similan Islands was very excited that he was going to being able to know the spectacular creatures that he would be seeing at one of the world's top ten dive sites. Added to this was the volunteers' satisfaction of completing surveys that were then entered into our database enabling us in the future to compare the condition of the local reefs and the number of marine organisms found from one year to the next.

Alongside the regular monitoring of the reefs that volunteers have been carrying out, there is also the practical side of conservation that is always required. I'm talking of reef salvage of course. Volunteers have made nine salvage dives during the month of January at seven different sites, predominantly around the local islands, such as Koh See and Koh Ya Wa Sam. The total weight of all the debris removed from the reefs amounts to 30.8 kg, and predominantly consists of fishing nets, lines and fish traps, but some of the other interesting items collected were a snorkel, anchor parts, engine parts, a boat lamp, and several lighters. It is always very satisfying coming up to the surface with a bag full of debris that has the potential to entrap fish and other animals, as well as smothering corals and reducing their ability to grow and reproduce. This work will continue unabated, and hopefully through our efforts the reefs will remain cleaner and safer allowing them and their marine inhabitants to prosper healthily.

Moving away from the diving side of the project and on to the crucial coastal conservation work that volunteers carry out for two days each week, I'll talk about the much-awaited start of our mangrove research project first. Having planted four sites over the last year and a half with various species of mangrove seed or sapling, all of which have seen a satisfactory average survival rate of over 50%, we have set out sights on achieving even better success rates of survival and quicker growth. Consequently we have planned a research programme to test different methods of cultivating mangrove seeds and transplanting the young saplings. We were very kindly given some land for this purpose in late December by the Krabi Mangrove Department and local community of Ban Thung Prasan where we have helped plant several thousand trees in the second half of 2006.

It is next to an area we have previously planted, across a very rickety bridge that many of past volunteers will remember and over a particularly water-logged and muddy subsidiary canal that can be precariously crossed for the most part of the day. However, when we first got there it was overgrown with weeds taller than any of us, so for the first two mangrove days of 2007 we went out with the sickles and hoes to clear the land in preparation for our research. Then two weeks later, the volunteers went out into the very muddy Klong Jilat with small sickles on long bamboo poles and collected over 600 mature propagules (seeds) of Ceriops tagal and 53 of the larger Rhizophora apiculata propagules. The Ceriops tagal were then planted under the different conditions of shade and sunlight, into bags or straight into the ground, and on higher dryer ground or into a more water-logged area that is inundated daily by seawater.

The last of the usual activities carried out by the volunteers is the cleaning of local beaches. Although we've only had two clean-ups so far this year at Ao Nam Mao and Andaman Beach, the five volunteers that have been here this month have collected 173 kg of all sorts of rubbish - plastic predominantly, but also a fair amount of glass and metal - that is continuously washed down the rivers or swept ashore by the waves. They even came across a crab trapped in a metal container which was subsequently freed, and a discarded thermometer. As always, it's not the nicest of jobs but it is very rewarding to see a nice clean beach at the end of the day, so well done volunteers, both past and present.

So, that's an account of the fantastic contribution the volunteers are making towards marine and coastal conservation in Krabi. These efforts are much appreciated by all that come into contact with our work and activities, so a great thank you to all of you that have devoted time, sweat and sore, blistered hands for the cause. On a final fun note, I'll mention the live-a-board that the volunteers went on for three days down south to Koh Haa Yai, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang at the end of January. Unfortunately no manta rays or whale sharks were spotted (except, of course, if you count Justine's fleeting glimpse of a whale shark's tail), but everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves having seen spectacular reefs and far greater numbers and diversity of fish and other marine species than we see on an everyday basis in Krabi. A well-deserved trip before another work-filled, yet rewarding month ahead - I look forward to reporting on the progress of all the various activities mentioned above.