Conservation in Thailand – Monthly Update - September–October 2014
There have been a lot of changes at the marine conservation project over the past couple of months. We have sadly bid farewell to Vishal Pawa, who has been the conservation project manager for three years, and to our field biologist, Diego Fernandez, who joined the Projects Abroad family a year ago.
In September, Montira Reijner started working with us as a field coordinator. She is a dive master and will be leading our survey dives, environmental workshops, field ecology trips and micro-plastic research.
In October, we welcomed our new project manager, Pamela Benjasirchai. Her extensive background in marine ecology and natural resources will turn the conservation project’s focus to more scientific research, which can be shared globally. Andrea Rugo also joined the team as our new marine biologist. Andrea and Pam will work together to implement new diving surveys to maximize quality data collection for quantifying our marine resources.
The dive operation has been subject to a slight delay due to adverse weather conditions, which have forced dives to be postponed multiple times. This has resulted in many weekends being replete with diving activities. However, volunteers did not seem to be too concerned about not having their weekends free since their main focus was being in the water as much as possible.
During September, our field biologist, Diego Fernandez, continued conducting reef surveys entitled Green Fins, Dive Against Debris, Endangered Species and Shark sightings. All the data gathered over the past year was analyzed in a brief paper entitled “Ecological Study and Classification of the Coral Reef on the Low Andaman Sea: Influence of Sediments, Depth and Reef Status on the Substrate Cover and Species Abundance.” His work indicated that the coral reef in the project’s survey area was in good health.
While Andrea transitioned into his role, we continued to collect data for Dive Against Debris and the Project Aware database. With each dive, our volunteers searched for endangered species such as turtles, sharks and marine mammals. Throughout the whole of October, we developed our survey methods to ensure that they followed scientific diving standards. This will not only promote a strong collection of relevant data but it also makes the surveys easy for our volunteers to put into practice. After each dive, feedback was gathered from volunteers, and the method was adapted to tackle any occurring problems and improve the quality of the data collected.
By the end of the month, we had developed a suitable method and gathered all the material needed to conduct new surveys. Official data collection will start in the first week of November and the aim of the coming weeks will be to confirm that the method works well and that it can be used by bigger groups of volunteers. Furthermore, we plan to start conducting market surveys to assess the environmental awareness of the local community. Our hope is that this will offer us a further insight to local ecological issues and confirm that our target species are suitable for our research.
Volunteers have been incredibly helpful during this transition period by contributing ideas and actively looking for solutions to any problems.
Over the past two months, we certified seven PADI Open Water divers, seven PADI Advanced Open Water divers and one PADI Rescue Diver. We dived at Phi Phi National Park and at local islands around the Ao Nang area. We also visited the Shark Point Marine Sanctuary, which is located between Phi Phi and Phuket.
Our volunteers learned about mangrove ecology through working with the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), which is a local organization that aims to preserve and restore mangrove ecosystems. In September, we worked for two consecutive days at MAP’s base site, which is a reclaimed shrimp farm in Koh Klang. Through means of hydrology, our volunteers restored landmass by digging trenches to allow brackish water to flow between changing tides.
Along with attending educational mangrove workshops, our volunteers ventured out to 'Thanon Pu Dam' or ‘Black Crab Street’ in Krabi town to snorkel through the healthier mangroves with Montira. It was an adventure as there was very little visibility but they had great fun doing it! At some point over the coming month, they will repeat this activity but will do so closer to the sea so that they can at least see some marine creatures.
At our base camp, we maintain a small tree nursery as part of our reforestation work. Our volunteers visit the Forest Restoration Research unit in Klong Thom on a bi-monthly basis. In September and October, they planted trees and learnt about the importance of certain rare tree species to birds’ migration and pairing rituals.
As part of our beach clean-up effort, we collected 14kg of recyclable waste and 17kg of non-recyclable waste at an island off Noparathara Beach. Volunteers focused on picking up every piece of rubbish from the high tide mark. Starting from November, our beach clean-up will involve conducting a survey across a section of 50 meters from the vegetation area to the seashore. All of our trash collection data is inputted to our internal database and submitted to Ocean Conservancy.
In addition to our marine debris removal and plastic pollution research, we have been collecting dead fish that have been caught in fishing nets. We plan to analyze the gut content of these fish for ‘micro-plastics’ as part of our dissection workshop.
The first Friday of every month is our ‘sea turtle day’ in Phuket. Before going to the Phuket Marine Biological Center, volunteers learn all about the life cycle of sea turtles and threats to their existence. When they get to see these amazing creatures, volunteers get their hands dirty by scrubbing algae to ensure clean tanks for hatchlings and the rescued adult turtles. Their entire day in Phuket is jam-packed with exciting activities; they visit the aquarium, have a picnic lunch while looking over a beautiful beach, and learn all about dive physiology in a hyperbaric chamber at Phuket International hospital.
Education and Awareness
For our education and awareness activities, our volunteers worked with school children. In September, we visited the Klong Thom School and taught the students about fruit, birds, and the relationship between them. We also worked with our sub-district administrator (a local government office) to teach young children to swim. In October, we taught school children about the food chain in the marine environment. They drew beautiful illustrations of food webs and food pyramids.
Cultural and Social Events
We are extremely excited to announce our recently launched cultural and social event calendar.
Events will take place every Wednesday evening or after dives, and activities range from sampling a variety of dishes at a street market to enjoying a Thai BBQ dinner or watching Thai boxing. For Halloween, we spent our entire day face painting at the beach as well as carving Halloween watermelons, swimming, playing games, eating candy and Thai food… and of course relaxing!