||Most people are familiar with this region of the world, Koh Phi Phi in Krabi Province. Nestled in the south of Thailand on the west coast you could not imagine more tranquil surroundings. A haven for backpackers and divers alike, 400,000 visitors per year flock to this tiny set of islands to experience the beauty and the myriad of activities on offer.
Inexpensive, stunning scenery (the backdrop for numerous movies, including James Bond and the most famous being ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo Di Caprio.) you would be hard pressed to find friendlier people than the Thai locals, always smiling and willing to lend a hand. It’s not hard to see why Thailand is known as ‘the land of a thousand smiles.’
Here you will find some of the most amazing diving in Thailand with water temperatures reaching a warm 30 degrees Celsius and visibility averaging close to 25mt during high season Oct-May. Dive sites such as Bida Nok and Bida Nai are second to none even rivalling some of my most favourite dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef. On my numerous dives there in March this year there was absolutely no evidence of tsunami damage, perhaps the only visible damage was to a gorgeous fan coral and most likely the cause of this was careless diving, not mother nature.
When I think back six months to my post tsunami visit it almost seems like a dream. Looking at images of life on PP now it’s hard to imagine the absolute devastation that occurred back then, the images I saw right in front of me.
The piles of debris have long since been cleared and evidence of those many lost lives now nothing but a distant memory.
I can vividly recall those weeks I spent on the island assisting with the dive recovery camp, working tirelessly to clear Ton Sai bay of the remains of the village. Personal effects strewn across the entire island far and wide, everywhere you looked and stepped. A tragedy of this scale was incomprehensible emotionally. Coping with this physically took a lot of strength but you only had to look around at the survivors that remained and listen to their remarkable stories of strength and courage to know that we were the lucky ones. I felt a certain level of guilt and wondered if I was doing enough to help these people?
I volunteered with Andrew Hewett, General Manager of the ‘The Adventure Club’ on Phi Phi, famous for its snorkelling shark tours on the island and coordinator of the dive recovery camp on Phi Phi. Along with experienced divers and snorkellers he continues to clear Ton Sai Bay and surrounds of the massive amount of debris below the surface.
Our work started in front of the remains of the Phi Phi hospital. Back in March when asked about the task at hand Andrew replied, “From our start 3 weeks ago we have hardly moved from the same area. So far we have removed approximately 45 tonnes of debris and we are still working from 2 to 5 metres depth.” However he also added that with more volunteers arriving every day and with this extra man power they should soon be able to set up a second team working from a second boat.
Andrew explained that the hardest challenge on the project was not so much the removal of debris but the handling of the dive and snorkelling teams. The need for everyone to follow correct procedure, understand the plan for the day and the methods used was absolutely paramount not only for their own safety but that of the fragile coral growth below.
The dive camp's original goal to systematically clean all and any damaged reefs and sea bottoms around the Phi Phi islands has made noticeable differences, something Andrew says is encouraging for all involved. He added that he has been overwhelmed by the efforts made by people that have travelled across the world to help, not only on the dive project but also for all the efforts being made to help the local people and victims of the Tsunami. “It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with these people that are devoting all of their time and energy. Their efforts are totally selfless and they wish nothing in return, just to know that they have made a difference and my hat goes off to them.”
Damage assessment done in the days following the tsunami by the Phuket Marine Biological Department showed that the immediate damage to reefs was limited to Tonsai Bay, Loh Dalum Bay ( where the larger of the waves hit) Loh Lanah Bay and Bamboo Island. The good news is that most of the coral reefs received less than 5% damage and most reefs including the famous Bida Nok and Bida Nai dive sites receiving no damage at all from the tsunami. This was obviously great news for divers and dive shop operators alike.
Having made over 180 dives on these sites alone I was ecstatic to see that they were more beautiful than I remembered with 25mt+vis and an abundance of sea life. The huge fan corals and sponges were still intact and the resident black tip reef sharks and fish were a little more curious than usual, much to the delight of the fun divers.
The Phi Phi Tsunami Dive Camp has plans to organise future cleanups and reef recovery monitoring with the help of local dive schools. Secondary plans include promoting greater awareness of the islands for all visitors so that they can help protect the local marine environment. This includes information on good diving/snorkelling skills and a program to educate visitors on coral and fish species identification. For further details please contact Andrew via email on Andrew@hidef.com, or phone 01 895 1334.
Locals on the island still remain uncertain of their future with current government Plans for PP still in doubt. We can only hope and pray that the local people will be able to remain and rebuild their lives in the place they have always called home.
As a diving community we can make a difference in the lives of those that are trying to rebuild theirs so please plan your holiday here, take some time to appreciate the beauty that this wonderful destination has to offer. In typical Thai style they will thank you, with a smile.
Contact the author:
Administrator, IRRA (International Resort and Retailer's Association)
PADI Asia Pacific
Unit 3, 4 Skyline Place, Frenchs Forest NSW 2086 Australia
Ph: 61 2 9451 2300 / Ext 282 Fax: 61 2 9451 9999
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