What was the first day in the field like and how did you feel?
Somsak: Shortly after the tsunami, the IUCN survey team evaluated the ecology of Koh Pra Tong, Kuraburi sub-district and Phang Nga province. It appeared that the areas were dramatically affected, especially the mangrove forest, beach forest, peat swamp forest, grasslands and sea grass. Koh Pra Tong’s mangrove forests as well as the island itself are areas in Kuraburi that were the most devastated by the tsunami. The island’s mangrove forests provide food for the Morgan people and produce for the local fishermen, thus these communities were among those most affected by the disaster’s aftermath.
Songpol: I still remember the disastrous marks (the tsunami) left behind. Whether it was loss to the ecosystem or structural damage, the local life style has yet to return to complete normality. Various restoration projects are in progress.
Two years have passed, how have the local food sources been affected by the environmental consequences and changes?
Songpol: The areas where the Green Coast project is being conducted have shown improvement. This is because the project’s activities and objectives are geared towards restoration by the community, encouraging them to care for their own ecosystem and livelihoods. Examples of work being carried out are reforestation of beach and mangrove forests, implementation of fish aggregation devices and artificial reefs and setting up buoys for both boat taxi and designating protected areas. The coastal communities are aware of the value of the natural resources because they know from personal experience the difference between the presence and loss of such resources.
Somsak: As for the damaged mangrove forests, more than half have been restored by various agencies, government, and both private and community sectors. Even though the beach forest, peat swamp forest and grasslands have yet to be restored by stakeholders, nature has taken over and saplings, such as pine trees, cajuput tree and Avicennia species are appearing everywhere. The communities have returned to their original lifestyles and have come together to manage and protect the natural resources. The activities vary under the Green Coast Project. The Ban Tung Dahb community was the first to restore the mangrove forests together with Seub Nakasathian Foundation. As for Ban Ta Pae Yoy, the locals have joined with the Thailand Research Fund Regional Office at Phang Nga Node to restore the sea grass. Ban Tung Nang Dum community, located between Koh Ra and the mainland, also organised coastal protection activities to restore sea grass, dugong and other marine animals as well as to set-up buoys to designate protected areas.
What happened to sea grass, mangrove forests, coral reefs and sea turtles after the tsunami?
Somsak: Following the tsunami, areas of sea grass in Koh Pra Tong and Ao Tung Nang Dum were affected directly and indirectly. For example, sea grass was directly hit by the tsunami as well as being covered by sediment and sand that was shifted by the disaster, thus causing loss and irreparable changes to the sea grass. As for the mangrove forest, numerous trees fell and the forest was coated with sand and rubbish. The trees were washed away and they collected in different areas. Koh Pra Tong lost at least 100 rai (16 hectares) of forest area, especially in the southern part of the island, near Ban Tung Dahb.
Songpol: The reef in Phan Nga province was affected in varying degrees depending on the area. On the whole, the coral reef received little impact from the tsunami although the newly discovered reef at Had Tai Muang showed signs of impact and movement of the reef. Additionally, 38 sea turtles, mostly Green turtles, and one dugong were found washed up by the giant wave. Parts of the nesting sites were destroyed by erosion and from construction work carried out in the area such as the concrete wall at Had Tai Muang. This will take time to re-establish itself.
How are such things important or related to the people and community?
Songpol: All habitats, whether they are reef, sea grass or mangrove forest, have an ecological role in supporting various species in the forms of food source, cover, nursery or nesting site. Even sea turtles are connected to both sea grass and coral reef in terms of assuring a balanced ecosystem as well as playing important roles in tourism. Local fishermen benefit greatly from the coral reef as it is the site for many economically important marine animals such as snappers, squid, Serranidae and mackerels. A rich resource usually means that fishery production is booming.
What about sea grass and the mangrove forests?
Somsak: In the Koh Pra Tong area, sea grass in Ban Ta Pae Yoy is where the Morgan people collect sea cucumbers and wing shells. The locals wait for low tide and collect the wing shells by hand without destroying the sea grass. The locals say that numbers of sea cucumbers and wing shells have dropped dramatically in areas where sea grass has been destroyed. In Ban Tung Nang Dum, two species of sea grass have been recorded, most of which are eaten by dugongs. Sea grass is important to threatened marine animals like the dugong, and these animals have been regularly found in areas with a high concentration of sea grass. The mangrove forests are just as important to the fishermen because they are a source of herbs, wood, crabs as well as fish hatcheries along the coast. For eight months of the year the area experiences monsoon, thus mangrove forest and the coast are vital to the community.
Can you tell us about the importance of restoring the environment following the tsunami?
Somsak: The community has been involved in reforesting the lost area by collecting seeds from mangrove species independently while some areas have received support from the government sector. There was also a clean-up before the replanting as well as following it up afterwards. The reforested area has been divided into protected area, consumption area and restoration area with the local villagers as the coordinating committee. As for the sea grass protection project, there have been surveys of species, research on planting, use of buoys to designate protected areas, awareness campaigns as well as setting up regulations on the use of the protected sea grass.
Songpol: In terms of the artificial reef project, it encourages the community to protect their natural resources; in using what they have efficiently and in a sustainable manner. As for the sea turtle project, this focuses on efficient nest surveys and involves the community in patrolling and protecting turtles that come to lay eggs. This directly saves the dwindling numbers of the sea turtles that are close to extinction.
How are the villagers involved in the project?
Somsak: I can see that they are concerned for their habitat because they feel they own the project and the local resources, thus they want to protect it for future generations. Ban Tung Dahb villagers helped restore the mangrove forest to its former role as a natural barrier and a rich source of income. At the same time, Ban Ta Pae Yoy protected sea grass so that it can be a source for sea cucumber and wing shell hatchery, and Ban Tung Nanag Dum protected the dugong to support tourism in the area.
Songpol: The community has collaborated and been involved in planning and proceeding with the project because they know the benefits that they will receive in doing so. I feel that sparking human thought is an important first step.
What are the things that should be remembered and the lessons learned from restoring the environment following the tsunami?
Songpol: Additional support from the government in different areas is needed, especially concerning budget, policy and laws. Regulations, removal of environmentally hazardous structures, and giving the rights to the community to manage the natural resources and local area with correct policies and technical support will help greatly. Additionally, communities such as fishermen and tour agencies need to work together in setting ecotourism policies, building community support to provide better ecotourism that can co-exist with their daily lives and aim for a sustainable use of natural resources. These are all areas on which the public sector needs to focus more; the public sector also includes the local administration offices, where all parties are independently involved at the moment. There is no diversity in the work and there is lack of necessary knowledge about marine and coastal resources. More importantly, there is not efficient collaboration between public and private agencies.
Somsak: Coordinating with stakeholders, allowing all parties to be involved and allowing the community to see the significance of conserving and managing the resources, so that they can be leaders in conserving their natural resources are all important issues. Furthermore, funding provided for the communities to start projects should be continuous, especially in the beginning.
If this project ends, what will the locals do?
Somsak: In reality, this project is small-scale and has a very short duration period, thus the continuity of the project amongst the community may decrease some. However, it is up to the leaders of the different communities and local public and private agencies to find more funding. If financial support is not provided, it will be up to the villagers to continue the work to the best of their abilities.
Songpol: The project focuses on building support, developing livelihoods and restoring the environment, a factor in everyday life. These are all things that go on whether the project does or not. The project simply provides education, guidance and develops skills in proceeding with other communal activities; enabling them to efficiently protect and manage the natural resources in a sustainable manner.
How do you see the direction of this environmental restoration in the future?
Songpol: The government sector (especially the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment), the provincial civil servants and local administrative offices need to be concerned about supporting the community in managing their natural resources in a collaborative and sustainable manner, in terms of policy, law, budget and technical knowledge. Such support will build a sense of ownership and concern of the richness of their natural resources. This action will lead to the stability and richness of the community and country.
Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Thailand has never been truly influential due to many factors such as the designation of strategies, and the lack of participation between agencies or between agencies and the community. Furthermore, the lack of a framework or location for such integration, sufficient budget, personnel and technical knowledge, all pose problems to the progress of such management. The most extreme environmental problem is encroachment upon 3km by trawls and commercial fishing boats, followed by unregulated coastal development. The most obvious is wastewater release, loss of sea turtle nesting sites and the possession of public land for economic use.
Somsak: The community needs to act as a network in supporting each other so that activities will have a positive outcome. Such activities include: negotiations, coordinating projects, proceeding with the projects in the aspects of policy, especially with agencies working in the local area. Collaborating in such a manner will allow for clarity in the work and availability of data for decision making. Furthermore, environmental work should cover all aspects and all areas. Policies and funding should be clearer so that problems do not arise when the work has begun. At the same time, there are policies and laws that exist, but they lack the proper agency to enforce them. For example, encroachment in forests and illegal fishery continues to persist. As for funding, especially international sources, the community finds it hard to directly reach out to these sources because the funds usually only go to large organisations.
As someone who works in the field, what have you learned from this job?
Songpol: The coastal community is mainly made up of fishermen who live traditional, sustainable lives. They respect and are concerned for their resources. They are the embodiment of a livelihood that has passed down through generations. The community is telling us that they are ready, what is lacking is appropriate funding.
Somsak: I was very impressed by the involvement of the community. This job was very tiring and demanding, but everyone helped out despite the conditions. The villagers have told us since day one that they do not have the funds, but they do have the man power. The important thing is that once we understand their needs, they will also understand ours.