Fear not. The arrival of HMAS Canberra, the 27,000-tonne helicopter landing dock, is part of an Indo-Pacific Endeavour which will see Australian and Thai personnel working together in training exercises and community activities over three days.
Australian military personnel will work with the Royal Thai Navy, police and disaster-prevention agencies in a number of training activities, including a tabletop exercise on maritime security in which they’ll team up to solve a simulated search-and-rescue.
The Australian Ambassador to Thailand, Allan McKinnon, said the visit is an important opportunity to cooperate in security and stability for the region.
“Thailand is a very important security partner for Australia,” he said.
“Our cooperation spans defence, counter-terrorism, border protection, combatting transnational crime and preventing human trafficking and people smuggling.”
On land, personnel will assist with the clean-up on Koh Siray on Apr 29. As I’ve mentioned in my previous articles – Trash Talk and Stirrings of Change – Koh Siray is the poorest area of Phuket, home to around 10,000 people, including a village of 1,000 sea gypsies, Myanmar fishing workers and disadvantaged families with very poor housing.
It’s also home to a monumental amount of plastic waste (photo above) that produces high levels of toxins in the water. Floating beneath the residents’ homes, the waste is directly impacting the health of the community, especially that of the children.
On Apr 29, 40 Australian military personnel will join local schools, villagers, community groups, the Rassada Council and other volunteers to undertake a clean-up, with a particular focus on plastic waste.
Royal Australian Navy Defence Attaché Capt Chris Smith said, “It will be excellent to see military personnel roll up their sleeves alongside the Koh Siray community. Clean beaches and waterways help build stronger communities and Australia is glad to offer assistance to the Koh Siray community through the Indo-Pacific Endeavour deployment.
“This exercise builds on previous Australian Direct Aid investment on Koh Siray including water sanitation, hygiene and wastewater utilisation.
“Many hands make light work, and our servicemen and servicewomen will be more than happy to take on volunteers at the clean-up in a few weeks.”
The clean-up will be coordinated by Dan Evelsizer, an experienced diver and engineer who has served four years in the US Marine Corp. Based in Phuket, Dan also runs Subs Thailand, a company that sells flip-flops made of plastic sourced from beach clean-ups and recycling.
Dan’s values are in perfect alignment with the Koh Siray clean-up which aims to not only reduce plastic on the island but to use it to generate income; for example, by creating products to sell in local markets.
The clean-up will begin with a welcome reception led by Rassada Deputy Mayor Pawat Supasuwan and Village Chief Khun Dont. Local schools have been invited to wave Australian and Thai flags and a school band will play the national anthems of both countries.
The kind volunteers will be broken up into groups of 10, spread across the area and tasked with an hour’s clean-up collecting rubbish, particularly plastic. Afterwards, at the sea gypsy kindergarten, each bag of waste will be weighed and the winning group will be declared and awarded a prize.
Military personnel will also present hundreds of pieces of lifesaving equipment to the Phuket Lifeguard Club as well as gardening and compost equipment to Koh Siray school students for their organic garden. The garden is made up of individual rubber tyres stacked together and filled with soil and compost, into which various local vegetables will grow and be managed by individual members of the school community, with the aim of using this experience to establish an organic garden in their own gardens.
Military personnel are also supporting the establishment of the sea gypsy kindergarten as a sustainable centre which will be a model for environmental practice, quality water provision, health and hygiene and for teaching how to process the waste materials to make products for sale.
The day will finish up with a lunch for all volunteers.
The Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) welcomes anyone to join the Koh Siray clean-up on Apr 29. For more information, and to confirm attendance, contact Jane Varley on 083-6343833 or email@example.com, or Dr Peter W Harris on 062-6940415 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep an eye on the coming issues of The Phuket News as it follows APEN and the Koh Siray journey.