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Phuket Opinion: Draining Phuket Turtle Power

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Phuket Opinion: Draining Phuket turtle power
Phuket Gazette -

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Sea turtles are an integral, but fast disappearing, part of Phuket’s natural heritage. Image: Gazette Graphics

PHUKET: It would be difficult to find a more depressing issue than the plight of the various sea turtle species that face extinction in local waters, some of which are also at risk of disappearing from the planet completely

Sea turtles are an integral, but fast disappearing, part of Phuket’s natural heritage. Older generations of Thais will remember the numerous Thai films that featured footage of huge female leatherback sea turtles lumbering ashore to nest on the island’s west coast beaches, making Phuket’s name virtually synonymous across the nation with these ancient and amazing creatures.

Fast forward a few decades to 2013, when virtually any sea turtle nesting on a Phuket beach, regardless of the species, is considered newsworthy. The simple truth is that the island’s beaches – and offshore waters – render existence for these reptiles almost impossible.

This comes despite the fact that most sea turtle species far predate mankind and have a remarkable reproductive strategy that factors in huge losses of hatchlings to an array of predators, including sea birds, canines and – it goes without saying – man.

The leatherback in particular dates back some 110 million years, according to fossil records. This evolutionary staying power indicates a well-honed biological design, provided that its natural habitat is not compromised – but it is.

We are all, each and every one of us, culpable for all of the plastic garbage that finds its way into the sea and ends up killing these animals, which mistakenly take the rubbish as their natural prey. But ingestion of improperly discarded plastic is only one of the threats these creatures face.

Another factor in their demise is unsustainable commercial fishing practices, such as the use of drift gill nets, which can entangle sea turtles or deprive them of their natural prey. Thailand, despite being a party to various accords aimed at protecting sea turtles, is notoriously bad at protecting them and is abashedly engaged in the rape of the seas in general, including inside its territorial waters and even marine national parks.

Thai fishing fleets typically consist of desperately poor migrants whose day-to-day struggle to survive seems to preclude the luxury of consideration for other forms of living beings. The Thai captains of these vessels need an overwhelming intervention and change of outlook if there can be any hope for sea turtles in our waters.

Sadly, we live on an island where even the most common-sense laws, such as the illegality of driving on the wrong side of the road, are brazenly flouted.

It is hard to find any hope on the sea turtle issue, and it will be even sadder if indeed these ancient creatures do go extinct in our lifetimes. But we will be left with only ourselves to blame.

Source: http://www.phuketgazette.net/phuket_news/2013/Phuket-Opinion-Draining-Phuket-turtle-power-20590.html

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-- Phuket Gazette 2013-03-24

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Yer and its not just the turtles,we're on the cusp of a mass extinction-levels have gone exponential,

http://efg-ec.webs.com/Extinction%20cHART.jpg

Only place I've ever seen a turtle rescue program was on Gili Meno in Indonesia, they had 3 large tanks - each with 100's of 3 different size turtles in an intense captive breeding type program ready for release. Perhaps there is somewhere in Thailand similiar but aint ever come across it though a quick google did reveal this..

http://www.ioseaturtles.org/pom_detail.php?id=67

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There is a fantastic Thailand blog website (Google "thai blogs") which has several detailed, first-hand accounts from expats living in Patong in the 70's and 80's when there was nothing but dirt roads and thatch huts that rented for 50B a night. No electricity of course. There wasn't even a dirt path to Karon or Kata beaches until the 80's. It's extraordinary to read about people riding whale sharks in Patong bay and of course, lots of turtles nesting on the beach. Then came sunbeds, jetski's, and a huge increase in fishing, silt ruunoff and stifling pollution. It is staggering to see how the Thai's treat animals and the environment here, but what is more shocking to me is when I see dive instructors, supposed ambassadors to the sea the environment, dropping cigarettes into the drains which empty to the sea.

Patong beach in the 70's and early 80's:

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Kata Noi 1985

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Bangla Rd early 80's

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Source says Patong Beach 1980

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Dead Letherback on Paradise Beach (Very near to Patong Beach), 2010. Photographer states it looked to have been hit by a jet ski or boat.

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Next two are where present day Club Med sits on Kata Beach 1980:

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Nai Yang Beach 1957:

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Yer and its not just the turtles,we're on the cusp of a mass extinction-levels have gone exponential,

http://efg-ec.webs.com/Extinction cHART.jpg

Only place I've ever seen a turtle rescue program was on Gili Meno in Indonesia, they had 3 large tanks - each with 100's of 3 different size turtles in an intense captive breeding type program ready for release. Perhaps there is somewhere in Thailand similiar but aint ever come across it though a quick google did reveal this..

http://www.ioseaturtles.org/pom_detail.php?id=67

Google "Phuket Marine Biological Center" and "Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation." They are the ones behind programs on Phuket such as the one you describe.

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There is a fantastic Thailand blog website (Google "thai blogs") which has several detailed, first-hand accounts from expats living in Patong in the 70's and 80's

<snip>

And then mass tourism happened. End of story.

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A couple of weeks ago I sailed from Phuket to the Simillan Islands and back on my yacht full of guests. What a disaster that place has become. The first island had a turtle breeding unit but the beach was covered in plastic. Eight of us spent a day picking up literally tons of plastic garbage and bagging it. We left it at the turtle breeding site as we couldn't carry it all back to Phuket. The next day we sailed to island number 4 where we were accosted by the National Park wardens and charged ฿400 per person per day for just being there. It would have been more costly if we wanted to dive but it is not worth the extra expense. The next day to island number 6 which was covered in litter and hundreds of tourists. A sad change from my first visit there, 15 years ago. On the way back to Phuket we sailed across a large area of plastic rubbish that had been discarded by the liveaboard dive boats (my crew confirmed this as they used to work on those boats). At exactly the spot where I was told that they dump their plastic garbage we sailed for a few miles through floating plastic and polystyrene. Not only floating on the surface but suspended below the surface as far downs as you could see. The whole area is lost. Dead. I wish I had not returned there but only retained the memories of how beautiful it once was.

Please, please, tourists, divers.....don't go to the Similan Islands.

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The Krabi Coastal Fisheries Research And Development Center Mueang Krabi Krabi Thailand has a nice turtle rescue program as do some of the other Marine Resource Laboratories in the region. These are good people doing their best to help.

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A couple of weeks ago I sailed from Phuket to the Simillan Islands and back on my yacht full of guests. What a disaster that place has become. The first island had a turtle breeding unit but the beach was covered in plastic. Eight of us spent a day picking up literally tons of plastic garbage and bagging it. We left it at the turtle breeding site as we couldn't carry it all back to Phuket. The next day we sailed to island number 4 where we were accosted by the National Park wardens and charged ฿400 per person per day for just being there. It would have been more costly if we wanted to dive but it is not worth the extra expense. The next day to island number 6 which was covered in litter and hundreds of tourists. A sad change from my first visit there, 15 years ago. On the way back to Phuket we sailed across a large area of plastic rubbish that had been discarded by the liveaboard dive boats (my crew confirmed this as they used to work on those boats). At exactly the spot where I was told that they dump their plastic garbage we sailed for a few miles through floating plastic and polystyrene. Not only floating on the surface but suspended below the surface as far downs as you could see. The whole area is lost. Dead. I wish I had not returned there but only retained the memories of how beautiful it once was.

Please, please, tourists, divers.....don't go to the Similan Islands.

The bit you wrote about liveabords dumping their plastic is bullshit. But the Similans are in bad shape. The rangers do nothing to protect it and are only there to collect fees, and they also collect fees from the illegal fishing boats in order for them to be allowed to fish there. This is well documented. Hardly any sharks or mantas or turtles there anymore.

Edited by NomadJoe

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Nice photos guys, pity we can't turn the clock back-would have loved to have seen Thailand back in the 70's. Nearly ended up in the Similian Islands recently but what you say only reminds me (yet again) that some places are best left alone inside fond memories of the past and not what they have become in the present- we can't turn the clock back can we.

Its good to hear there are rescue centres but it always seems to appear that so much is being done by so few-in extremes whole species have even been literally saved by one extremely dedicated person.

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