Calling themselves “The Green Paddlers”, James Forsythe Dan Magie, Kenny Peavy and Kerry Dyke completed their goal of paddling around Thailand’s largest island, while gathering data for various agencies, both governmental and non-governmental. Here’s a general synopsis of what the group saw, heard, felt and even smelled, as told by paddlers.
“Generally speaking, the west coast of Phuket was in fairly good shape as seen through the environmental lens we were looking through. There were sporadic flotsam and jetsam in the water from Mai Khao all the way to Nai Harn.
Beaches were also in relatively good shape – no doubt a result of the various green clubs and hotels who do regular clean-ups. However, on the beaches were we ventured just off the sand and into villages, the garbage was much more pronounced. By far the biggest scar on the western coast of Phuket were the klongs that were spilling black water into the sea.
On the days we paddled through, Nai Thon had black water entering the sea from the northern most klong. There was pollution being spilled into Bang Tao bay; while the klong in Kamala was especially foul as we paddled up onto the beach, polluting the seawater over a wide area.
“We witnessed some reefs that seemed to be recovering at Sirinat National Park, the headland at the southern end of Kamala, and the bay at Nai Harn. We spotted a variety of tropical reef fish at both Sirinat National Park and at Nai Harn.
In other spots along the coast there were fish, but maybe not as many as we expected to see. We did spot a turtle on the headland between Kata Noi and Nai Harn, and also off of Mai Khao, just north of Anatara and JW Marriott. We also saw three octopus on three separate occasions, two off which were on the west coast. Another positive development on the west coast was the sustainable fishing practices the fishermen were using.
“As we rounded Phromthep Cape, floating garbage increased dramatically. The paddle from Rawai to Cape Panwa was especially heavy going, with floating objects of all sorts. Not just straws, bags and plastic or glass bottles but also chairs, doors, pillows and lights. There was a direct correlation to villages or boat traffic where the garbage was thickest.
“The bad news – actually this is beyond bad – was the Phuket Town area starting at Rassada and running through the channel that separates Ko Siray from Phuket. This channel was as disgusting as any water the four of us have ever witnessed; this is scary, considering the four of us are world travellers who have seen first-hand pollution problems in Mumbai and Delhi.
One local on the klong who has been living there for a decade, remarked that the pollution has only gotten worse in those ten years. The black water, the smell of that black water, and the amount of trash floating in that black water was frightening. It will take a massive undertaking to clean and educate those who are contributing to the pollution. For example, we witnessed a massive fishing trawler pull into port and while doing so, deckhands on-board were throwing thrash bags out the back into the channel.
“Up the east coast, the water bounced back quite quickly, no doubt aided by the mangrove forests. We saw a great deal of bird life here, which is always a good sign of an ecosystem’s health. We can only hope that the mangrove forests that exist today will remain intact. We’ll find out in a couple years time, when we try this again.
“To be able to see Phuket from the vantage points of our kayaks has shown us the Phuket has ridiculously beautiful vistas: mountainous and green, sandy and white. The ocean water remains clear and beautiful in most places but we fear, as do many of the wonderful people we spoke too, that there are certain klongs that threaten that sentence.
“The best part is the amount of people working tirelessly to fix the problems before it’s too late. The green clubs with their volunteers were especially uplifting, as was the work that the Phuket Marine Biological Center, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation and SEEK Phuket are doing to sustain marine animals and ecosystems. Although Ko Siray does not yet have a green club, we hope that our stop there and subsequent beach club inspires the start of a green club. It is clear that where these clubs are in place, the local environments are in better conditions.
“Without conservation, there is no tourism. If Phuket’s environment issues do not get fixed, then tourism will eventually disappear. Let’s hope that when the green paddlers repeat this project in two year’s time some issues will have disappeared. In the mean time as a resident of this province, I will do all I can to help, to empower others and lead by example.”
“Green Paddlers was one of the biggest and best adventures of my life! What started off as an idea to paddle around the island and camp on beaches somehow evolved into a massive environmental awareness and action campaign.
“A better group to complete our journey could not have been asked for. A better team could not have been assembled. At times, when I was drifting alone in the middle of the ocean, I would catch myself thinking 'there is an entire world beneath my kayak and I know virtually nothing about it.'
“At those times I felt incredibly lucky to be where I was in that moment basking in awe of this planet we call home. I cannot say it was beautiful. It was beyond beauty. It's a feeling I cannot put into words. All descriptions fall short. Some things in life can only be experienced. Those experiences bind us to this earth and each other with unspoken clarity. They define who we are.
“Other times I would find myself recoiling in disgust at the waste, the trash, the dirty water and the smell of the muck we have created with the endless stream of crap we are producing and throwing away. Along our route, especially near Phuket Town, we found plastic bottles, endless supplies of plastic bags, diapers, glass, light bulbs, doors, pillows, shoes, bicycle parts, plastic spoons, straws, food containers and the list goes on and on.
“It made me question the values of our society and wonder what kind of people would do this. That's when I would think 'we can do better than this'.
“As seen first hand during this trip, there is no away. Away is right here. It's where we are. It is our home. So when we throw something in the trash it does not go away. It stays with us much like the memories and experiences we make in this life. It also defines who we are.
“So it seems to me we have a choice both individually and collectively as a society. We can bask in awe of this planet we inhabit and become stewards of the natural world we depend on or we can swim in the stream of trash that is floating down our rivers, through our mangroves and washing up on our shores.
“More than anything else, our choice determines who we are. What we do defines who we are
A welcome return to shore
On the final day of their journey, the Green Padders came ashore at Mai Khao, where they were welcomed by representatives from JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, the Turtle Foundation and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The paddlers submitted their data to the IUCN and turtle foundation, and – perhaps as an omen – spotted a turtle off the shores of Mai Khao.
Next year, SEEK Phuket are planning to collaborate with the Green Paddlers group, JW Marriott and local school children to construct kayaks out of plastic bottles and organise a short paddling trip around Phuket and Phang Nga with the aim of raising awareness for the marine environment. A similar or even grander Green Paddlers trip is also being planned for 2016, with subsequent trips envisioned taking place every two years.