Montchai Cholakij, a local fisherman hopes. The Local Administrative Office of Lumkaen sub-district and nearly 10 village representatives of Ao Tub Lamu leave port, but not to catch fish like every other day. The sounds of these motors are sounds of boats carrying more than 20 blocks of concrete, setting out to build new homes for marine fish or what is also known as fish aggregation devices.
Fish Aggregating Device is one of the local wisdoms that is prevalent and continues to be passed down through generations. This device originally uses bamboo, wood, rope, netting, tires, train cabins or old boats that can be used as habitat. In constructing these new homes by the Ta Din Daeng community, 50x50x50 centimeters concrete blocks were used instead, for durability. Furthermore, coral cling onto concrete better than any other material. Such material also poses no drastic environmental threat. More than 70 blocks will be descended to the bottom of the sea as additional habitat, hideouts and food source for a multitude of species. Additionally, these devices will also bring in income for more than 500 lives residing around the gulf.
Montchai and his friends recall that it has been nearly 2 years since the evident decrease in fish population. Before each fishing trip, they would get nearly 200 kg of fish, a drastic difference to the current situation following the tsunami disaster. Now, on some days a mere 20-30 kg of fish is all they get.
“Furthermore, the use of trawls, by large investors, has depleted the Spotted Babylon population in Ao Tub Lamu. Trawls will drag with them, everything they pass, whether large or small, including coral reef that is home to many fish. These homes are destroyed and young and adult fish become homeless, and are merely left to survive on their own. Additionally, the chance for repopulating also decreases, resulting in the clear decline of the fish population. Thus, until we can see the value of these fish aggregating devices, many more fish and animals will disappear just as the spotted babylons did.”
Two years has already passed since the tsunami scarred and bruised Ao Tub Lamu. However, this gulf is yet to face another mark - one that is caused by human activities and is seemingly getting harsher with more extensive consequences. Whether it is unsustainable fishery or inappropriate diving that lacks understanding, all these activities cause the degradation of the reef. With the reef destroyed, this affects the amount of aquatic species that can survive in such conditions. Ultimately, the fishermen are those that will also face the consequences of a degrading environment- a decrease in food and income.
“To increase fishing area and decrease the use of marine resources in Had Tai Muang- Khao Lum Phi National Park is the principle behind constructing fish aggregation devices under the Green Coast project, in which the locals operate and organize. The project’s role is advisor, providing technical information in construction and research analysis and on topics such as what materials are used and where the devise is set. The area needs to be one that fishermen already use, so that they can see the value and be able to fully benefit from these devices,” states Jirapong Jirarongkul, Marine biologist, WWF Thailand.
As for Prarop Plangngan, Assistant Supervisor, Had Tai Muang - Khao Lum Phi National Park, stresses the importance of building these new homes that “this is the main travel route for the Ta Din Daeng community in going fishing in the national park grounds. These devices will increase fishing areas that are near their homes. Each trip would take fishermen only 15 minutes, which helps them save gas, time and decreases the risk they would face if they had to travel further into the open sea. Most importantly, it decreases encroachment upon national park.”
These small homes that are built from the sweat and effort of the villagers, and many others involved in this project, is a pilot for further artificial habitat around Had Tai Muang’s new coral reef, which was discovered by WWF Thailand this past year. At any rate, this project is an attempt to increase fishing areas for the locals as well as build buffer zones to alleviate the damage that could possibly occur on the coral reef- a marine heritage that needs to be saved.