The tsunami of December 26, 2004 not only devastated people’s lives and their livelihoods but also left its mark on the environment.
The tsunami of December 26, 2004 not only devastated people’s lives and their livelihoods but also left its mark on the environment. A thriving tourism industry that benefited from the proximity of picturesque islands, white beaches, and coral reefs was badly hit.
The Andaman Sea Ecoregion
In Thailand this destruction occurred in one of its most important ecological regions - the Andaman Sea. Although this region contains only one third of Thailand’s coastline, it accounts for over half of its coral reefs and is so rich in biodiversity that it was identified by WWF International as one of its “Global 200” Ecoregions – vital for saving life on earth. Extensive mangroves, sandy coastlines, sea grass beds and deep sea valleys make the Andaman Sea a haven for a spectacular array of marine animals including five varieties of sea turtle (all endangered or threatened), dugongs, Irrawaddy dolphins, several species of whales and home to at least 600 species of reef fish. In terms of coral, the Andaman is home to more species of coral than the entire Great Barrier Reef.
Post-tsunami reconstruction (especially tourism) offers an opportunity to safeguard the natural systems on which it completely depends – to monitor and aid the recovery of these ecosystems, and to prevent and minimise future misuse and abuse. The Green Coast project builds on the guiding principle that human well-being is dependent on the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems. This is clearly evident in the Andaman Sea where well-managed coastal and marine environments are necessary for the security of livelihoods in the region so dependent on sustainable tourism. The community projects chosen will aim to provide a more secure future and livelihood for local people through:
- A healthier more intact natural resource base
- Better security from damaging storm and flood events
- Increased potential for economic development (particularly tourism)
- Stronger involvement in natural resource management by local communities
Focus Areas for the Green Coast Project in Thailand
A Brief Overview:
The Green Coast Project beneficiaries have been clearly identified as the communities of Phra Thong Islands, the communities of Khao Lak and the communities adjacent to Had Thai Muang National Park. All three focus areas are in the coastal province of Phang-nga on Thailand's south-western coastline, the area hardest hit by the tsunami in Thailand, and in the heart of Thailand's Andman Sea region. Although the Andaman Sea region contains only one-third of Thailand’s coastline it accounts for over half of its coral reefs and is so rich in biodiversity that it was identified by WWF International as one of its’ “Global 200” regions of ecological importance to the world.
Had Thai Muang National Park
Location and Description Had Thai Muang National Park is situated on the western mainland coast of Phang-nga Province, a short drive northwards from Phuket’s International Airport. It includes an inland part – a mountainous area with numerous waterfalls, on the eastern side of the main highway; and a 13km long beachfront area (Had Thai Muang) one of the few remaining turtle nesting beaches on Thailand’s Andaman coast. The coastal area of the park has a number of different recognizable habitat types – a barrier reef less than 1km offshore; a sandy beach inter-tidal area; beach forest above the high tide mark, Melaleuca swamp forest behind the beach forest. Areas damaged by the tsunami are already being replanted. Turtle Nesting In the last 10 years the beach has seen low numbers of nest of 4 different species of marine turtles (green; olive-ridley; hawksbill; and leatherback). Eggs are usually dug up and hatched in a simple hatchery at the park HQ (the hatchery was badly damaged in the tsunami) and hatchlings are released immediately after hatching. This is the only site in Thailand where four species of turtle nest on the same beach!!! Local Communities There are 3 communities whose livelihood activities are directly related to the park. Ban Nai Rai and Ban Bor Dan are both part of Na Deuy Sub-District; while Ban Chay Talae Thai Muang is part of Lam Kaen Sub-District. The activity of most direct relevance is artisinal fishing. Fishing boats in these communities destroyed in the Tsunami are being replaced by various organizations. Approximately 11 boats from these communities fish in waters off the beach in front of the park – however they are very target-specific, fishing only for a small species of shrimp (Koong Koey) and using only hand-lines to catch fish. Community Involvement The park management is keen to provide opportunities for the local communities to derive additional income from the park. They are keen to provide opportunities for visitors to the park to go snorkeling at these two sites. This would involve renting long-tailed boats from the local communities, to transport visitors to these sites. However the park does not have any masks, snorkels, or life jackets. The park management is also keen to see members of the local community trained as local tour guides so that they can then lead groups in snorkeling; bird watching; nature walks; turtle watches; etc. (Another activity option would be cycle tours through the Melaleuca forest to Khao Na Yak, followed by a picnic, snorkeling at Khao Na Yak, and a boat ride back to the HQ) The Park has requested that the official park boundary be extended 3km offshore. This request is likely to be supported by the artisinal fishers from the local communities, as they will be allowed to continue their fishing while the extension of the park boundary will ensure larger fishing boats from other areas are not allowed to fish this area.
Phra Thong Island
One of the "Jewels of the Andaman"
Phra Thong is one of the “Jewels of the Andaman”, and an important nesting beach for turtles. Unfortunately it was one of the worst affected islands in the Andaman Sea. Among the fatalities on the island were three Marine National Park rangers working on the Naucrates Turtle Conservation project. The impact of the tsunami on the coastal environments of Phra Thong is still clearly evident, with some of the beachscapes suffering drastic changes. Once more sedimentation and salinity have been major causes of beach forest die-off. Mangrove forests have also suffered; a brief assessment made by a Naucrates Conservation Biology team in May 2005 of the tidal creek at low tide found that much of the debris washed away from the resorts (Golden Buddha Beach and Kratom Moken) had ended inside the creek. Most of the island locals are still in temporary accommodation located on the mainland but assistance is being provided by a number of aid organizations. Long-term objectives for work in this area include effective management of marine protected areas, leading ultimately to designation of a transboundary marine World Heritage Site between Thailand and Myanmar, the development and adoption of “best practice” tourism development, particularly amongst snorkeling and dive business operators, and the establishment of sustainable funding mechanisms for coastal and marine conservation.