• The documentary film “Reefs of Life", stills from which are on display, spreads the word on environmental conservation initiated by Her Majesty the Queen./courtesy of BCPG
  • Bundit Sapianchai
  • Sivakrit Saravit

Desirable residences

lifestyle August 11, 2018 01:00

By Kupluthai Pungkanon
The Nation Weekend

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How train carriages and navy ships became new homes and breeding nurseries for coral, fish and other marine life under a project initiated by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit



HER MAJESTY Queen Sirikit of the Ninth Reign has long been associated with royal projects to promote Thai textiles and arts and crafts but less is perhaps known about her commitment to environmental conservation and the sustainability of Thailand’s seas.

Almost two decades have passed since Her Majesty launched the Royal-Initiated Coastal Resources Rehabilitation Project, which focuses on creating artificial reefs to serve as a habitat for marine life. 

Speaking on the occasion on her birthday celebrations back in 2009, the Queen explained how she had become involved in the project. 

“Fish in the shallow coastal areas have all but disappeared. I had no idea what to do, so I sought the advice of experts, who suggested putting in artificial reefs. This was new knowledge to me, and I learned a lot from the local villagers in order to create artificial reefs as a habitat for marine life. I initiated the coastal rehabilitation project in Narathiwat Province in 2001. It was supported by various organisations, and became a truly worthwhile project, because it helped to improve the livelihoods of the poor.”

The documentary film “Reefs of Life", stills from which are on display, spreads the word on environmental conservation initiated by Her Majesty the Queen./courtesy of BCPG

 

In 2001, villagers from Ban Laweang in Pattani’s Mai Kaen district requested help from Her Majesty Queen Sirikit to rehabilitate the badly depleted marine life in the area. Her Majesty responded by instructing Privy Councillor Palakorn Suwannarat to find a location to set up a hatchery for the artificial breeding of both finfish and shellfish for subsequent release into the seas off Pattani and Narathiwat. 

In parallel, the Office of Royal Development Projects Board in conjunction with the Department of Fisheries, the State Railway of Thailand, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, the Marine Department, the Royal Thai Navy and other organisations proceeded to create artificial reefs as fish habitat. Between 2002 and 2010, these organisations donated materials that could be recycled as reefs including ships, tanks, train carriages, and so on. This complex structure of artificial reefs draws various species of marine life to take refuge from predators. The ocean currents flow through and they are also an abundant source of food due to the proliferation of seaweed, invertebrates, sand-dwellers, and various marine creatures, creating a thriving food chain. 

An artificial reef - an old T-69 amoured tank - forms a new safe haven for underwater life threatended by the loss of natural habitats./courtesy of BCPG

Today, coastal fishermen no longer have to venture too far out and the reefs with their unique characteristics are also a magnet for divers. As the barnacles and soft coral develop into larger colonies that cover the entire structure, they are almost indistinguishable from natural coral reefs. 

To pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on her birthday and promote awareness of her royal initiatives on marine conservation, power company BCPG has joined with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, and Royal Thai Army Radio and Television Channel 5 in releasing the documentary “Breath of the Ocean”. The film comprises a tribute segment to Her Majesty the Queen titled “Reefs of Life: Artificial Reef Project under the Royal Initiative of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit”, and a nine-part series on artificial reefs. The production is part of BCPG’s corporate social and environmental responsibility activities dealing with water resource conservation. 

Whale shark

The documentary and accompanying exhibition titled “Breath of the Ocean”, were created and produced by Mailak Team led by Sivakrit Saravit, a veteran producer of documentaries. 

“In Thailand there are 24 provinces connected to the sea and hundreds of thousands of rai of coral reefs that contribute to the livelihoods of fisherman living nearby. The deterioration of the coastal waters pushed these fisherfolk to the brink of disaster and so Her Majesty created a new habitat for marine life thorough artificial reefs. This served as a nursery and protected area for fish fry, increased resources for the fishing industry, and revived the livelihoods of the coastal fishermen,” says Jatuporn Buruspat, director-general of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.

Mushroom coral

“At that time, we had little knowledge about this delicate and complex issue but today we are witnessing huge numbers of fish and other forms of marine life. What’s more, the artificial reef sites are greatly appreciated by divers. However, we must now put even more effort into marine conservation to counter the damaging impact of garbage, which is a truly major concern,” he adds.

 “One of the reasons we have produced this documentary is to stimulate an awareness of global warming, and the need for each individual to pitch in to protect our earth,” says Bundit Sapianchai, president and chief executive of BCPG.

“When people think about global warming, they mostly think about planting trees. But we would like to invite public to ‘plant trees in the sea’, to pay more attention to our rivers, seas and oceans. As a source of oxygen through phytoplankton, they are integral to the ecosystem since they produce 70 per cent of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, while the remaining 30 per cent is produced by plants. Phytoplankton are very similar to plants on land; they absorb carbon dioxide, and through photosynthesis, they produce oxygen. They can be found in fresh water, seawater and brackish water. However, studies indicate that global warming has affected the ecosystem and the human way of life in many different ways, particularly in coastal communities. Such phenomena as red tides have had an effect on the quantity and quality of marine life, as well as the tourism industry,” he explains.

Producer Sivakrit is also passionate about the seas. “Every life is valuable. Corals are not stones. They are marine invertebrates which, at night, use the polyps’ mouths as tentacles to catch zooplankton as food. They are living creatures like all of us, and so they need to be taken care of. When I used to dive, I rarely saw any fish. Her Majesty’s initiative and devoted efforts of this project have produced beautiful consequences,” he says.

Alex Rendall 

Alex Rendall is an actor and conservationist who has organised some 100 youth conservation camps to date in an effort to instil knowledge of and respect for natural resources.

“My goal, which is consistent with the UN’s sustainable development goals, is to strengthen environmental education. I believe that young people who join my conservation camp will grow up to never take advantage of natural resource. Even if they become, say, top executives of plastic companies, they will find a way to run their business so that it is coherent with the natural environment.”

And hopefully, though the series, the public will also learn how this coastal rehabilitation project has not only helped local communities earn a livelihood but also created a true safe heaven for marine life.

There is no better time that the present than to start working towards environmental conservation and instil more sustainable ways of life in the minds of the Thai people.

PROTECTING OUR SEAS

The documentary “Reefs of Life: Artificial Reef Project under the Royal Initiative of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit” will be broadcast on Royal Thai Army Radio and TV Channel 5 on Sunday after the evening news and on Nation TV Channel 22 at 9am. 

The nine-part series on artificial reefs will be aired on Royal Thai Army Radio and Television Channel 5 every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6.20 to 6.30pm from Monday through August 29. 

The exhibition continues in the foyer of Quartier CineArt, the EmQuartier through Monday. 

The images are also available for sale, with all proceeds to be presented to Her Majesty the Queen for her royal charities. 

The documentary film “Breath of the Ocean” can be viewed at www.bcpggroup.com. 

BCPG has also pledged to install solar panels as a power source for rangers and tourists at marine national parks.