Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tales from Tae Pae Yoi - Koh Phra Thong

Tales from Tae Pae Yoi - Koh Phra Thong
Ian Woodhall
MAP Asia Volunteer Intern
Lagoon entrance at Koh Phi Phi

When I heard all the MAP Asia staff were going to be leaving for a week shortly after I would arrive in Trang I was a little apprehensive. I was thinking of things to do, when Jim suggested I could use the time to go out in the field to Koh Phra Thong assisting Barry Bendell, MAP associate and advisor surveying the sea grass meadows. I was relieved and excited about this, as it would allow me to do some science and to see more of the country at the same time. I had a spare couple of days in Krabi on the way too, where I could be a tourist and see some of the beautiful islands and coral reefs close by. Honestly some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my life- like moving through a postcard. The enormous limestone Kasks rising up out of the turquoise sea are breath taking, and seeing a wild Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus) on the reef was the cherry on the cake. 

View of the mangroves from the boat

The travel to Koh Phra Thong via Krabi and Kuraburi was an exciting experience in itself. I had to use all different kinds of transport, meeting different collaborators and members of the extended NGO family out here on the Andaman Sea. To get out to the island we climbed in the long-tailed boat and headed out through the mangroves. This was the first time I had been through the mangroves in a boat and could see how dense and entangled the prop roots were first hand. The forest appeared quite extensive, completely covering the coast we were following. This affirmed to me how important the trees are in such a large scale for stabilising sediments and providing shelter for juvenile marine species.

Barry surveying seagrass

We arrived in Ta Pae Yoi and drove back through the rain and flooded roads to the staff house in Ban Lion using the sidecar. We had to wait until 16.00 for the tide to be low enough to survey and as we arrived at the pier Barry asked me to help him get the kayak down- “so I guess we’re kayaking across then?” I’d never kayaked before so getting in the thing was a challenge. We landed on the sandbank and Barry showed me the species we were to survey which was a shock. In my head I had a picture of large thick ribbons of tape grass spread extensively across the sediment, but we were surveying very small carpet forming species, which the dugongs feed upon. We set to work along Barry’s transects, spotting lots of other fauna and flora as we went, but soon the light was fading. We ended up working by torch light and still not completing all transects. By the end the tide was rising and it was pitch black, and I have to admit I was glad to be getting off there. So now another first- kayaking at night! All was fine and we called it a day.

Aplocheilus panchax
The following day we had to wait for the tide until nearly 16.30 to be able to complete the survey. So I decided to use the time to try and sample some freshwater fish from the local stream just behind the staff house. I love freshwater fish and have kept them all my life, so I was excited to see if I would recognise any species. Sure enough I sampled Panchax (Aplocheilus panchax) and Rasboras (Rasbora spp.) from the side of the stream. I also saw Climbing Perch (Anabas testudineus), Gouramis (3 Spot (Trichopodus trichopterus), and Snakeskin (Trichopodus pectoralis)), and what looked like a species of giant Danio (Devario spp.) and possibly larger Barbs (Puntius spp.) out in the main channel. Suffice to say the bigger (faster) fish in the main channel evaded my attempts to catch them - easily. Luckily the water was clear and when fed our leftovers from dinner the night before they were out in the open for me to see. 

We completed our survey by torch light once more and returned back to Lion Village for some dinner at one of the community based home-stay member’s houses. While there we arranged to re-line the crop shade in the Ban Lion Community Centre garden the following day. It was a shame to see Ban Lion so sparsely populated as apparently the villagers the houses were intended for do not want to live there, as the community set-up does not suit their lifestyle. This reinforced to me the importance of consulting and communicating with the community any project is going to impact upon as MAP does. Without this respect and consideration for their needs and desires, their support will not be won. Therefore projects will fail, no matter how good their intentions may be. 

Beautiful view from the pier as the sun rose
While waiting at the pier for the tide to rise high enough for the boat to leave we were lucky enough to see a juvenile Sea Eagle! Presumably it was hunting mullet that we saw in small schools surrounding the pier. We headed back to the main land through the mangroves once again, only this time the tide was still low so we had to wade through the mangrove channels to get back to dry land. Once there, it was a quick jump in the truck and before I knew it we were waving down my bus heading in the opposite direction. Quick goodbyes and a run across the road in broken, muddy wet flip flops carrying all my things ended my first fieldwork while volunteering with MAP. All in all - a brilliant experience! 

Since then I have been lucky enough to be out in the field with MAP many times and it is my favourite part of volunteering. I am so grateful to the villagers, visiting professionals and extended MAP family for the opportunity to take part in their work. I feel very privileged to see and experience Thailand this way, meeting real people with real issues and hearing their voices and opinions on the things that matter to them most. 

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