30 years ago, "Koh Phithak", a small island off the coast of Chumphon Province, was no paradise island for anyone. It had a very degraded marine ecosystem. The community was divided. Drug problems were widespread as well as gambling addiction While the local fishing pools, which have been the main source of income of the community since time immemorial, were encroached upon by commercial fishing vessels. These commercial trawlers threatened the local way of life and left villagers of Koh Phithak with no options.
These issues disturbed Ampon "Chief Rang" Thanikhrood, a local-born of Koh Phitak. He decided to quit his job in Bangkok in 1993 and returned to his hometown as a new village headman to save the island from its woe.
From then on, the marine environment of Koh Phithak has gradually been restored to its past glory again. The island has once again been surrounded by the bright blue sea and lush green islets. Without commercial fishing vessels trawling along its sea as in the past.
When the encroachment has calmed down, local fishermen have joined hands in a marine conservation project to restore their sea. Since then rare aquatic animals such as seahorses, giant clams, and corals are being spotted again. While other marine life such as shrimp, mussels, crabs and fish have become as abundant as before. The result of such success inspired "Chief Rang" to make Koh Phithak a representation of the so-called "Green Island of Thailand", a role model for successful conservation efforts in other islands.
To be a Green Island, the first thing is to create a "waste management". Nowadays, 95% of garbage are coming from external sources or tourists, therefore, in 2020, Koh Phithak will start enforcing eco-tourism guidelines and regulations. For instance, the use of plastic bags on the island will be prohibited, if tourists bring plastic bags with them, they will be fined 100 baht each. The island management will introduce rules and regulations for tourists via QR code. Tourists can scan on the installed signboards for knowing all regulations instantly while on the shore before setting off to the island. The prohibition of plastic bags also helps encourage local people to learn how to make cloth bags as a plastic substitution.
Koh Phithak has fresh air as its charm and main tourist attraction. For this reason, being a "Green Island" local community has to find a way to manage garbage from outside the island by setting up goals of how to make those garbage "valuable" and how to motivate the locals and visitors alike to participate in garbage collection campaign. The community is currently discussing with the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion on how to dispose of all waste through recycling and reuse or "Zero Waste". With villagers become more united on the environmental front, this initiative will definitely make Koh Phithak a real example of Green Island.
Another project is to study "Carbon Credit". The island of Koh Phithak is covered with rich forest resources and now the locals are studying how much a 30 years-old tree, can generate carbon credits. The result of these studies will be used as a confirmation of how good the air quality on the island is. At the same time, a new generation is a vital force in pushing environmental issues. By introducing an initiative called "Children and Youth for the conservation of resources and the environment" the younger generation of Koh Phithak will join forces to collect garbage from the sea and become "Young researchers" by learning how to create artificial coral and learn a simple water conditions checking, such as observing the level of oxygen under the basement of every homestay on the island, make sure that no one is dropping food waste or wastewater into the sea. Above all, these initiatives will educate the younger generation on how to take care of the environment and revive the old way of life. Unlike the previous generation, the youth will have an environment-friendly way of living and there will be no large structures on the island.
To be a sustainable tourist destination in every aspect, Koh Phithak also needs an effective wastewater treatment system. Sewage from the bathroom or kitchen in the community will be transported to shore and treated by microorganism treatment. The treated wastewater will then be carried via pipeline to be used again in ecological farming around the village.
The local community can also generate income by participating in conservation programs, such as releasing crabs eggs and cuttlefish eggs which help increase numbers of marine life in the area. The locals also set up an aquafarming community enterprise and earn their income by selling seafood to tourist.
"The food on the island does not include pork, chicken and other livestock. We genuinely want tourists to enjoy seafood freshly caught from the sea without chemical contamination. The local fishermen have to sail and cast their nets around the island bringing back fresh crabs or shrimp and hand them to tourists right in front of their accommodation, it is as fresh as it gets. No seafood is allowed from outside everything must be caught by fishermen on Koh Phitak only. This directly helps in creating jobs for local fishermen." Amphon said
To make fishing sustainable, Chief Rang set up a "Fish banks" by restoring coral reef which is natural marine life habitat. Mangrove restoration is also part of the plan as growing more mangroves will help repair the ecosystem and therefore increase the population of marine animals that have decreased steadily in the past decades. Koh Phithak, as projected by Chief Rang, is aiming to be "Marine Animals Breeding and Research Centre".
All projects cannot be carried on by the islanders of Koh Phithak alone, and it cannot be achieved by focusing only on one aspect of environmental management. Making Koh Phithak a prototype of Green Island, it is necessary to have a comprehensive solution. From waste management and wastewater treatment to marine resources management and ecological restoration, these solutions help sustain ways of life and the sources of income in the community. The participation by other agencies is also vital to maintain sustainable resource management on the island and thus create the future for generations to come.