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Dugong can breathe with ease thanks to new Koh Bong resource management strategy

Oct 20. 2019
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By The Nation

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The declaration of Hat Chao Mai National Park and Mu Koh Libong as non-hunting areas in Trang province and the declaration of Mu Koh Angthong National Marine Park as Asean Heritage for its rich natural beauty have given a momentum to preservation efforts.

To keep up the momentum, the Office of the Science Promotion Board Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Higher Education Science Research and Innovation organised a seminar entitled “Libong People's Future: Dugong's Future” in order to provide lessons in resource management following study of the dugong while making the islands a reserved area for marine animals.

Khanitha Chullabun, a local research coordinator at the Office in Trang province, said the government already supported Koh Libong in many projects but the most important of these now was the seagrass conservation project. This project has gained importance because of the direct link between the amount of seagrass found in the area with the number of dugong.

“Seagrass and dugong thrive on Koh Libong. The place has become famous all over the country and around the world since the death of Mariam. The problem is how to get Koh Libong to be more acceptable as a natural tourism location while encouraging locals to manage natural resources in the area. This helped create a new concept of natural resource management plan called the “Libong Model”. This led to sustainable self-management by allowing the community to have a role to play in planning and collaboration in all aspects of development. This seminar will drive the community to be ready for community-based conservation of the Asean heritage.”

The Libong Model divides responsibilities among three ministries -- Natural Resources and Environment, Tourism and Sports, and Economy. It is based on the concept of using human capital, knowledge, wisdom and resources of Libong Island towards the goal of self-management and creating a sustainable economy for people in the community.

Abdulrahim Khunraksamnan, Koh Libong subdistrict headman as the Ministry of Economy representative, said that in the past the main income of the community came from rubber tapping and fishing. But nowadays, Libong people have more new jobs, such as tourist services, providing homestays, and merchants, which together have helped increase the average income of the community. The locals have abundant resources and the friendliness of the people on the island, including the culture of the Muslim community, are considered salient points of the community to woo tourists. However, there are still infrastructural issues that must be tackled for the safety and convenience of tourists travelling on the island.

Prachum Charoenrit, village chief as the representative of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport, said tourism management by the people of Libong would be developed gradually while maintaining natural resources around the island.

The locals have to organise tourism promotion and activities that do not disturb the dugong while sight-seeing. This is a problem that the community must help look after and follow the rule, such as parking boats at designated buoys or rowing instead of using motorboats when they spot dugong.

Suwit Sarasit, a volunteer of the Koh Libong protection group and a representative of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said the slogan: “People live, dugong survive” means a lot to the people of Libong. Therefore, communities must help each other to protect the island’s resources, including: 1. seagrass restoration, as in the absence of seagrass, there would be no dugong; 2. engaging in jobs that are sea-friendly by requesting cooperation to not use fishing tools that will hurt dugong and rare sea creatures; and 3. waste management both at sea and on land, not just waste management on the shore but all the waste on the island.

Kiatisak Kasemphankun, a local fisherman, believes the Libong model is a small step toward a great goal as it not only protects the dugong but also marine life.

“Trang is quite famous for taking care of dugong and rare sea creatures. But the discovery of waste in the stomach of Mariam, was an eye-opener.

“People are used to seeing the death of dugongs due to the large amount of garbage in Trang. However, the discovery that the dugong’s death may have been caused by fishing tools due to carelessness shocked everyone. Whenever a dugong is found dead, the local communities are sad because all people in Trang and Koh Libong are aware of the importance of the dugong,” Kiatisak said “We try to look after 80-90 per cent of seagrass areas, which are considered dugong habitats. Measures will be taken and cooperation sought from operators of commercial fishing boats and local fishing boats, as well as tourism operators to be cautious and avoid risking the lives of rare marine animals or destruction of seagrass beds.

“I believe that everyone is ready to cooperate in preserving the habitat as an increasing number of dugong have been found in the last 4-5 years.”

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