remarks Tosapol Saedeng, Head of Village, Moo Bahn Ta Pae Yoy, Koh Pla Tong. He smiles as he explains the use of buoys to identify the seagrass protected area, approximately 80 rai in front of the Moo Bahn Ta Pae Yoy beach. This push for the aforementioned protected area, Tosapol adds in “using buoys to define the protected area for seagrass conservation and restricting wing shell and sea cucumber collection, occurred from the needs of the villagers - more than 400 Thai Yai and Morgan ethnic groups residing on Koh Pla Tong. Prior to assigning the protected area, there were no wing shells, which is necessary to sustain livelihoods. This project is thus rooted from people who depend on the natural resources, such as the Morgan people, who are now desperate that such resources are restored.”
The abnormalities of seagrass, a nursery and aquatic habitat, were partially caused by land shifts from the tsunami, which shifted the seagrass colonies closer to shore and freshwater sources. This not only caused a loss in the original ecosystem, but also decreased seagrass along the beaches. The variation that occurred, if the ecosystem was to not be restored, causes direct consequences, especially upon the Morgan people, in both food supply and income. Sukkij Naktakhun, Coordinator for the Participatory Seagrass and Wing shell Restoration Education Project for Sustainable Management of Natural Resources by the Community, states, “from observation and local wisdom of the villagers comes the initiation for seagrass protection. The villagers say that whenever they go out to collect wing shell, they always find wing shell eggs in the seagrass, especially in the spoon grass. Furthermore, wing shell and sea cucumbers that reside in seagrass grow faster than when raised in cages because cages lack seagrass that help trap sediments, which are scrumptious food for mollusks and sea cucumbers.”
The use of buoys to define the protected area is managed by the villagers themselves so that conflict can be avoided and only areas necessary for conservation will be assigned as to allow for the villagers to still have sufficient space in making a living. Kem Glatalae and Mahd Glatalae, two close friends that have depended on the sea for more than 50 years feel that
“villagers agree and are willing to cooperate in placing buoys for seagrass, wing shell and sea cucumber protection. Many years ago, when the water dried up, villagers can collect thousands of kilograms of wing shells. Later, wing shells have been harder to find and one must travel further to collect them. Since the placement of buoys for conservation, there have been more wing shells. Villagers can make a living around these protected areas all year round, becoming significant especially during the rainy or monsoon season when boats cannot leave port. Villagers help in being the eyes and ears; any encroachment to harvest wing shell and sea cucumbers in the protected area risks being chased away by the villagers. Previously, a commercial fishing boat had asked to bid for the right to harvest in the protected area, but the villagers refused, if not, the parent breeding stock would be lost.”
From the success of marking the protected area, came the first attempt by the Morgan people to grow seagrass. Nirat Glatalae hopefully describes, “every time I dive to find wing shells and sea cucumbers, I usually find that seagrass is their home and food source, thus I began to think that wouldn’t it be good to breed the juveniles, so that we do not have to go out to search for them.” After nearly 1 year of observation, about 5000 sea cucumber juveniles are still small and the sand within the cage is white, different from sand that is outside of the cage, which contains more deposits. Nirat Glatalae also adds, “sea cucumbers in the wild grow much faster than those kept in captivity, which shows that the sea has something that the cages do not. I think the missing factor is seagrass because seagrass helps to capture deposits. Thus, I tried to plant seagrass in the seas cucumber pens. If successful, I will expand the area and recommend it to other villagers so that such habitat for wing shells and sea cucumbers can increase.”
Since connecting relationships between seagrass ecosystem, wing shells, sea cucumber and the community, villagers have seen the significance of this ecosystem upon which they depend. Such action has led to a strong cooperation for conservation work on Koh Pla Tong. Villagers have decided they will all chip in, even though if doing so does not necessary mean in monetary value; the mere working together to find equipment would be sufficient. This sort of cooperation allows villagers to love and cherish the project. It seems that the greatest gift from this restoration project seems to be the restoration of awareness after the tsunami.