Posted: July 14, 2017
As a first time conservation volunteer, I was eager to gain first-hand experience of the difficulties faced by conservationists. Conservation work as a Marine and Coastal Conservation volunteer here in Phang Nga has involved addressing a number of key conservation issues, with activities including biodiversity surveys, sea turtle conservation, and beach cleans. Recently we undertook surveys on the islands of Koh Phra Thong and Koh Ra. It was such an amazing opportunity to explore these islands which are rich in biodiversity but lack substantial research. For this reason, one of GVI’s main aims was to devise a species list for Koh Ra by carrying out biodiversity surveys, which would enhance the local community’s understanding of their natural environment. We set up camera traps there in an attempt to capture evidence of Pangolins on the island, and as Pangolins are one of the most illegally traded animals in the world but are shockingly under-researched, GVI’s motivation for their conservation is obvious.
Another key conservation effort involves carrying out regular beach cleans, which has made me aware of one of the most serious threats to our oceans and marine biodiversity – plastic pollution. During beach cleans, plastic waste is amongst the most commonly collected items; bottle tops, plastic straws, toothbrushes, you name it, it’s probably in the oceans. Thailand alone is responsible for releasing 10.3 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, as the trend toward disposable plastic use means the majority of plastic is dumped rather than reused or recycled, and eventually this plastic debris makes its way to the ocean.
GVI works alongside global NGO Ocean Conservancy in their fight for Trash Free Seas, by clearing litter from stretches of local beaches and recording the extent of litter collected on the Ocean Conservancy App. Public involvement is important to Ocean Conservancy as it is generally believed that “Marine debris isn’t an ocean problem – it’s a people problem. That means people are the solution”. This notion presents a significant challenge to conservationists across the globe, because of the difficulties associated with changing popular consumption habits, but it has also encouraged thousands of volunteers across the world to clean local beaches and record what they find. Through beach cleans, not only do volunteers gain the satisfaction of contributing to a global fight against marine plastic, but you also experience a sense of satisfaction when you see the litter-free stretch of beach behind you!
Creating Trash Free Seas also contributes to conservation of sea turtles, which is another key part of GVI’s conservation work in Phang Nga. Sea Turtles are particularly vulnerable in the wild, in fact their survival rate can be as low as 1%, as they are confronted with numerous challenges – the risks of ingestion of floating plastics or entanglement being just one example. Clearing beaches and oceans is of great importance then, as what would be the point releasing the turtles we conserve at the sanctuaries just for them to be exposed to injury from marine plastics?
The importance of addressing these global challenges is clear, and as a GVI volunteer, every day you get the sense that you can contribute to global conservation simply by conserving the local environments and biodiversity of Phang Nga.