Why we save Koh Surin

The Surin islands (or Koh Surin) is an archipelago of five islands of the Northern Andaman Sea, situated approximately 60 kilometers from Phang Nga. Established as a national park since 1981, the open season starts from November to May every year. The islands is closed for five months due to monsoons, and partly to let the nature heal itself in the process.

LWL spoke with Khun Patompol Panut-umpon (Ong), the current president of Save Koh Surin club who came along with his friends on our whale watching trip on August 3rd. He shared with us about why people love visiting Surin islands, heroic dive missions to save the coral reefs, helping giant hermit crabs, and the island’s gradual recovery from coral bleaching.

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LWL: Why do people love Koh Surin?

Well, it is one of the most well known locations for snorkeling, and is one of the most beautiful places in Thailand. In scientist terms, shallow reefs occur when many currents meet and because of this, there is biological diversity in the area.

Different spots have its unique features; there is scuba diving spots at Hin Pae bay (อ่าวหินแพ) that are nursery grounds for exotic fishes; places to see bump head parrot fish or turtles at Torinla bay (อ่าวตอรินลา, เกาะไข่); Pakkad bay (อ่าวผักกาด) that has manta rays, and lots of huge fishes; there is sea fans in Suthep bay (อ่าวสุเทพ), and if you want to see sharks you can see them at Stok island (เกาะสตอร์ค). So there are lots of opportunities at Surin islands to see both small and large marine life.

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Save Koh Surin is a club that supports eco-tourism, and we are interested and happy to spread news and knowledge related to all types of conservation. Our Facebook page is used to share stories about Surin islands.

“Homecoming Trip” Activity

Usually our club has homecoming activities in which we invite tourists to travel Surin islands, and we take them out on a conservation trip. We bring them to different locations, share knowledge and send out conservation message; unlike normal guides that doesn’t share as much focus on this area. Some of our members are frequent travelers to the island themselves, so they do participate as guides on these trips. We organize events as we believe that tourists should learn the appropriate etiquette so that others can foster the right behavior and set a good example to the people around them.

We try to organize new trips, and have spoken to the navy or the public service to help achieve our second objective, which is to work for the public benefit. We try to take action.

LWL: How do you take action?

We go on a scuba diving to do net cutting, cleaning trash, and net cutting free dive at Surin islands. We also cooperate with other clubs, and participate in other event in the name of our club in conservation events.

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LWL: How do you plan to take action?

Our plan is to increase our ‘take action’ approach. You see, during the closed season, right before the pre-opening season we will send people over to monitor the island. During the closed season there are boats and fishing boats that tries to trespass during the monsoon season. Sometimes they use trawls that becomes entangled with the corals, so the way we fix this is to cut these net and dispose them safely. These nets can kill corals as they cover the sunlight, their main source of energy and they die out as a result.

Our next plan is to speak directly to the national park officials. National park officers are there to supervise the island to make the island beautiful and clean again before the island is open to the public. Our plan is to be among those special volunteers. We have already spoken with the officials and meetings will be held.

The great thing about this is that our club will be able to see what it is like prior to the opening season, and we will be able to assess the recovery or the damage by tourism.

“Give home for the hermit crab”

One of our activities is called “Give home for the hermit crab”, and what we do here is we bring shells for the hermit crab at Surin islands a new home. There are two types of hermit crabs that are easy to recognize.

There’s ones that we commonly see on Thai beaches, and the other is giant hermit crab, which is roughly the size of a grown man’s fist.

Normal hermit crabs don’t have the problems in finding their own shells, but it is the giant hermit crabs that finds it difficult to find a place to stay as there are only few large shells for them out there. Some are damaged, and most are taken by stronger giant crabs.

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And unfortunately there are those without shelters that find refuge in the trash that tourists throw out such as on bottles or lids.

We try to campaign this educating tourists on why they should not litter in national park area, and how it is very important to throw trash in the bin every time since these creatures may use these resources without knowing, and this may put them in grave danger. The truth is the island is their home and they are free to roam around as they wish; we try to campaign this and have given them new shells many times already.

Characteristics of a shell for hermit crab:

- Must be a single shell/a univalve

- Must have a spiral

- The weight must be light to a certain degree, so they can handle the weight to carry their ‘home’

- Must be a strong shell.

These shells need to be bathed on seawater first, before it is placed firmly on the sand – they will come and pick these up themselves.

They will approach these shells just like us browsing our clothing in the department store, and they will do this by placing their antennae to check whether they like it.

Once they are OK with it, finds it safe and suitable for them, they will put the shell on.

They will walk around with the shell, and if they find it is too heavy for them as some of the shells can be, they will move out until they find their true home.

However we place more emphasis in encouraging tourists not to bring these shells back away to their homes.

LWL: Any other activities you have that you want to mention?

Other activities we have includes growing coral reefs, and returning sea turtles to its habitat. Again our club is doing its best to cooperate with the government unit. We have enough manpower and energy to help.

LWL: Is the environment at Surin islands improving or getting worse? Why so?

In the past few years a lot of us may have heard about climate change that is causing wide spread coral bleaching in not only at Surin islands, but also throughout the rest of the world. We are witnessing corals dying from our ocean. The underwater suffered considerably due to this phenomenon, and the recovery has been difficult.

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However, over the years there have been efforts to grow these corals back, and closing diving sites to save coral reefs. We have been able to see staghorn coral recovering the most, while other corals are slowly growing back again, very, very gradually. The important thing is the marine ecosystem is recovering, and fishes are coming back again.

I think we owe this to everyone helping out. Nowadays tourists are more environmentally aware of the things happening around them. They listen, stay up-to-date and are more interested to environmental issues. The public sector is consistent in looking after their areas more and we are one of the many clubs that is helping out in providing more knowledge and conscious to tourists today, in bringing more environmental conscience for all Thai citizens today.

For more information visit their Facebook page and like them at ชมรมคนรักเกาะสุรินทร์ or visit www.savekohsurin.com

About the author

Pairat Temphairojana (Pai) is working as a journalist in Thailand. It was in 2009 when he first saw blue whales in a whale-watching tour in Alaska – and upon hearing that such majestic creatures like the Bryde’s whales is populating in the gulf of Thailand, he did not hesitate to join as a whale-watching guide in Thailand. He believes that having proper standards and regulations for a safer whale watching activities in the gulf of Thailand is necessary and can lead to a more sustainable tourism for the locals living in the region. Pai will be regularly joining us on board as a field observer and a reporter on our frequent visits to the Gulf of Thailand.

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