Learning From Each Other in Thailand

Tourism and Community-based Resource Management

By Alfredo Quarto and Jim Enright

News of the tsunami on 26 December 2004 shook the world by the sheer number of deaths and severity of this unprecedented natural disaster. However, time passing has eased memories and we are now slowly forgetting the human tragedy that greed and shortsightedness helped to engender in the first place.

Now with world economies in near ruin by a terrible world recession, development pressures rise more than ever, like a tsunami of economic desperation, to overtake reasonable caution, allowing yet more unsustainable development and careless resource management decisions that will lead us into the growing reality of climate change. Instead of ensuring that coastal development is wisely planned and managed, governments too often allow tourism development such as marinas, hotels and golf courses in those areas that should be set aside as climate change/sea level rise barriers.

Neither residents nor visitors will be safe until the business of making money is constrained within reasonable and effective coastal management plans designed to conserve and restore the natural greenbelts or buffers against storm waves and winds. Many experts who have studied the tsunami and cyclone disasters in Asia now believe that the destructive forces were much less where there were mangroves, coral reefs, sand dunes and other natural barriers. As a result many lives were spared in these areas. However, local communities once sheltered from storms by these natural barriers were now vulnerable largely due to unregulated and poorly planned industrial development along vital coastal zones.

Community-based resource management

There is a growing realization that local communities should have a say in those developments that affect their lives and their resources. Where local communities take responsibility for conserving, restoring and managing their natural resource base there is much more certainty that their resource base - be it mangroves or waterways, farm lands or forests - will be successfully conserved for future generations.

Traditionally, most countries' government department of forestry had always been in charge of forest resource management and the same was true for mangroves in Thailand. Now in Thailand, as in many other countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, there is a strong people's movement to regain control of natural resources, especially forest area near villages, despite the lack of a clear legal framework to support community-based management.

Building Local Management Capacity

The Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Management (DPPM) Programme by the Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism (ECOT) presented the Mangrove Action Project's Asia Office an opportunity to become involved in some hands-on capacity building on natural resource management. The Mangrove Action Project carried out training sessions for staff of the Thai based Asia Resource Foundation (ARF) and some of the community leaders from the tsunami-hit communities in Ranong, Phang Nga and Phuket provinces. MAP learnt from carrying out this training that the transfer of knowledge by members from an experienced community-based Management (CBM) community to another community is an effective means by which to disseminate information. Community-based tourism can be an effective tool to promote conservation, restoration and wise use of coastal resources.

Community based tourism in Lion Village, Phra Thong Island

Koh Phra Thong is an island located in Phang Nga Province off the Andaman Coast. It is one of Thailand's least developed islands and was severely affected by the tsunami of 2004. Lion Village was built with support from Lion Club International for tsunami victims. It is a collection of people from different villages on the island, including Moken (sea gypsies), Thai, Chinese, and more recently, Burmese. The Lion community has 40 households with 126 people. However, not all members stay permanently in the community due to lack of livelihood options. Most people are dependent on fishing with some income derived from construction and small-scale cashew plantations.

MAP has been working to initiate an environmental education program on the island since 2007 along with Naucrates, an Italian conservation organisation. The project also involves developing alternative livelihoods. Community based tourism was not a completely new concept for the Lion community members as some homes had previously hosted Naucrates international volunteers during the sea turtle nesting season in 2007-2008. Eleven hosts were interested in exploring the idea of a year round home-stay project, and after a two-day exposure tour visit to Ban Talae Nok on the mainland in Ranong Province, the Lion community participants were determined to undertake community based tourism despite the many challenges. The integration of livelihood concerns with environmental issues in Ban Talae Nok, which is also a small-scale fisheries-dependent community, was an excellent model.

The Lion community has recently started their own mangrove restoration initiative from a model based on another community based tourism community visited. This clearly shows the process of change from independent fishermen to a fishing community that is acting to protect the common resource bases on which all fisheries depend. This is an enormous challenge and takes time to achieve. However, once this transition occurs, Ban Lion will be much better able to face not only natural disasters, but also man-made threats such as sea level rise and industrial tourism development.

Alfredo Quarto is Executive Director and co-founder of the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), formed in 1992. Jim Enright has worked as the MAP Asia Region Coordinator since 2001 and is based in Trang, Southern Thailand.

This article is an abridged version of the article "The View That Tourists Must Demand To See To Believe", from the book "Disaster Prevention in Tourism - Perspectives on Climate Justice" by Ceasar D'Mello, Jonathan McKeown and Sabine Minninger (eds.), recently published by the Ecumenical Coalition On Tourism, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2009. ISBN 9789742356446. 317 pages.