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Naucrates Sea Turtle Project Koh Phra Thong.

THAILAND | Thursday, 1 March 2012 | Views [1961] | Comments [1]

Ko Phra Thong, Phang Nga Province

Entry 1 -18/02/2012

I had decided to keep an electronic journal during my time with Naucrates, the Sea Turtle Conservation Project on Ko Phra Thong. This will allow me to quickly post one or two entries when I have internet access again. Internet sticks are available on the island, but I am avoiding their use unless absolutely neccessary. I am currently typing from my homestay in the village as a gecko stares at me through my mosquito next. The mosquitos here are unbelievable! My legs and feet are covered in bites and mosquito repellent doesn't seem to have any affect. I am living in a room at the Poo Yai's homestay, the chief of the village. Last night (17/02/2012), I had my first Thai conversation with the Puyai and his wife. I greeted them with the usual Swadika, and managed to ask them how they were, respond to their returned inquiry, thank them for my room (and gave them my thank you gift - a calendar with photos of Canadian Parks), AND tell them their house is beautiful! We had our first Thai lesson earlier that afternoon, and it was fresh in my mind.

The house is very quaint. I virtually have the upstairs to my self, which consists of a fan, mosquito net, mattress and shelving. I occasionally have visitors, such as geckos, birds, or the gigantic coconut beetle. The houses in the village are equipt with either western or asian squat toilets. My house has the latter, which I thankfully perfected on the train ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

A lot had happened since my last post, not including my arrival on Ko Phra Tong. I made my way to Patong Beach, Phuket, after Bangkok and enjoyed some rest and relaxation on the beach. I was a little early for check in at Bodega, a hostel that had been recommended to me by fellow travellers from my tour, so I left my bags and wondered around the main street, looking to by some island essentials - sun screen, sarong, hat, and sun dress. After checking in, I pulled on my swimmers and hit the beach. Later that night, during happy hour, I met some fellow Canadians, and ended up going to an illusionist show in town. They had recieved free tickets from on of the acts, and had a spare. It was nice to do something free for a change, and I certainly would not have paid the 1500 baht for a ticket, but it was a fun experience. The next day I hit the beach again early, then had a late lunch before heading back to the hostel for the hottest part of the day. Unfortunately this day I also discovered the Patong shopping centre, and I was well behaved... until, I saw a guest booth set up for Valentines Day, with orchids, that had been preserved, edged with gold and made into jewellry. I chatted with the girl for sometime, but walked away worried about how they would travel. I returned 5 minutes later to make my purchase.

The next morning (14/02/2012), I caught the 6am local bus from Patong Beach to Phuket Town to meet two others joining the project (1 volunteer - Max; and the new field assistant - Rebecca) at the bus station. From here we hopped onto a 160 baht ($5) bus for the four hour journey to Kuraburi, where we were met by a car and taken to the pier for our boat transfer. Our boat was also responsible for bringing supplies such as meat, bread, ice, fruit to the island village, and was piled high! The hour long boat trip to Ko Phra Tong Island was breath taking. the Andaman sea was a green/blue unlike any other, and was bordered by mangrove forests of the many islands dotting the coasts. We passed by the jungle thick, mountains of Ko Ra, another island where Naucrates monitors, sea turtle, tortoise, sea grass and mangrove forests, before heading down the narrow channel into Lions Village (get thai name), Ko Phra Tong. Here we we greeted by the currecnt field assistant- Nikki, and taken to our homestays.

Perhaps here I should give you some more information on the island. Ko Phra Tong is essentially a very large sand bar, approx 20km x 5km in size? The boundaries of the island are lined with sandy beaches or mangrove forests, with an area known as the Savahanna in the centre. Because the island is essentially flat, it is much hotter then any of the other nearby islands so we must drink alot of water each day. We are based our of Lions Village, names for the Lions International Club that came in and rebuilt the village after is was destroyed by the tsunami in 2004. When you enter the channel to the village, you can still see the foundations of some of the old houses where the village was originally located. At the other side of the Island is Golden Buddah Beach REsort, which we refer to as Beach 1. Before the tsunami, Naucrates was based ouf of this beach, as it had the most turtle nestings. Unfortunately the the tsunami destroyed everything in its path, and two of the Naucrates Field Assistants were killed in the disaster. I am currently reading a book from the office called Out of the Blue written by an Australian journalist that had a bungalow on the island and survived the tsunami by staying on Hornbill Hill, the location we now do our behavioural observations. The affects of the tsunami are still seen on the island as many villagers moved to the mainland for jobs and housing. The school in Lions village was shut down a few years ago due to low enrollment, and all children must go to the opposite side of the island for school.

After settling into our homestays, we regrouped at the Naucrates Field Office for an introduction on the project and some brief training on the identification of different types of sea turtles. We later headed to dinner where we were pleasantly surprised at the food quality. I for one was expecting to eat bland rice and meat for the duration of my stay, instead we were presented with beautifully cooked thai curry, rice, fish and vegetables, and fruit for dessert. We were told all of the food would be like this, and they weren't lying! For breakfast, which we almost always eat on the beach after patrolling for turtle activity, we have the choice of eggs and toast, french toast, museli, fruit and milk/yogurt, or pancakes (the last two are my preferred choices!). For our other meals we have been spoilt we many traditional thai and local dishes - Pad Thai, papaya salad, soups, sea weed salad, delicious fried vegetable patties, fish meat balls and patties, all kinds of fruit, and my personal favourite- sticky rice with coconut milk and mango! Lamion, our cook, is a rock star! A roi ma ka (very delicious!)

It had been busy since coming to the island, and I have been here 5 days so far and I am loving it. We start our mornings at 5:30am, when we board a boat that takes us to the nesting beaches. We are assigned beaches/tasks the night before, which include the daily tasks of walking walking 5km alond beaches 2 and 3; 10 km of beach 1, or taking weather data and doing 2 hours of behavioural observations in the morning and afternoon, and finally checking the fresh water turtle traps just outside our village. We also do beach surveys, reef cleaning, or transect studies. They are hoping to create a marine protects area (MPA) in the area we conduct our behavioural observations. Our afternoons are normally quieter because of the heat, and we spend them in the village prepareing educational material for children and tourist about the project and sea turtles. I have spend many afternoons drawing flash cards of mangroves, various species from the island, and dangers ecosystems, or painting.

Our mornings begin early because we want to be the first on the beaches to look for turtle tracks and signs of nests, before poachers have the opportunity to dig them up and sell the eggs on the black market. there are normally 60-150 eggs/next and each egg can fetch $1 usd (alot of money for thailand!). When found, the nests are mapped, beach profiles taken, and then disguised so no one will know where they are. There have been no new nests since I have arrived, but 3 are known to exist on beach 1, and one is expected to hatch in the next week. If i remember correctly, this the lowest number of nexts in the 16 years Naucrates has been present on the island. Major risks in the areas for the turtles include poaching, some often die when they are caught in squid traps, or other fishing nets, and locals still eat both fresh water and sea turtles in region dispite is being illegal. This has nothing to do with poverty, but the tradition of why buy food if i can catch it for free. Hopefully they will have a few more nests before the field season ends in April.

Today, after walking the beaches, a few of us headed to the reefs to clean them. This enables me to perfect my duck diving as we must dive down to cut fishing lines and nets away from the corals. The corals and fish in this area were so colourful and beautiful! I only wish I had an underwater camera to capture some of the unique fish and corals I saw.

Well our power had just gone out for the evening. We only have electricity from 6:30pm to 10:30pm. Tomorrow i have a later start, as I will be biking across the island with our translator to do weather and behavioural observations. But, I must tell you quickly about 2 of my faviourite experiences on the island so far. The first occured 2 days ago, and often occurs when our long tail boat heads back to the village after a morning in the field. As the boat cuts through the water, it disturbs a certain variety of fish that leaps out of the water to get out of the way. This jump isn't your average fish jump. THe fish jumps/skips across the water the same way a flat rock hops along the water when you attempt to skip it. It is incredible to see, but impossible to photgraph. The other happened this morning on our boat ride to beach 3. Phosflouresent algae. when the water is displaced it lights up! this can only be seen in the dark. After exiting the boat we splashed around in the water for a bit playing with the light. I know I've said incredible alot, but there is no other way to discribe it. INCREDIBLE!!!!!!

Entry 2 - 22/02/2012

Sawadi ka!

Hello! It's hard to believe that I will be heading home one month today! Six weeks have gone by way to fast! I am still enjoying my time here on Koh Phra Tong. I was even considering staying a few extra days, but it would cost 1500 baht/day which is WAY over budget for the length of time I'm travelling. That would cover 3 nights hostel stays PLUS food!

SInce my last entry, I have seen my first turtle! When doing observations on 19/02/2012, I saw one break the surface of the water just for a few seconds, then he/she was gone! It was so quick, but during afternoon observations, other volunteers saw the turtle, which came to the surface many times during the 2 hour period. As for the nests, there has still been no movement/evidence of hatching. I just hope it happens before I leave next tuesday.

The last few days have been really busy and long for me, but I somehow managed to fit a tiedye workshop in! I've been up early to walk the 5km beach, plus I've been helping one of the researchers (a Candian named Barry) monitor the local seagrass populations in the afternoon. We have to wait until low tide to conduct the work in order for the sea grass to be visible. This happens to occur during the hottest time of the day - 2:30-5:00. The lowest and highest tides will occur today, but we managed to get all of his work done in 3 afternoons before he returned home to Trang, a province south of Krabi. Anyways, I have spent the last 3 afternoons out on the mud flats infront of the mangrove forests, looking at sea grass, crabs, shrimp, snails, and algae. On several occasions, I have ended up knee deep in mud! But I really enjoyed the project, and we were able to get everything done fairly quickly.

I continue to work on my thai, practicing both with our translator and our boat driver (who doesn't speak any english). I can now say that I am hungry, go eat, go home, jump in the water, stingray, see you tomorrow (and in the morning), yesterday, crazy (ting tong

)and I don't understand.

The last couple days I have been trying to get a video of the skipping long tom fish, but have been unsuccessful. I think they might be on to me and be a bit camera shy. Hopefully they'll return with a lower tide.

Entry 3 - 28/02/2012

Today I was supposed to leave Koh Phra Tong, but as some of you might have seen on my facebook or heard through the grape vine, I am still here! haha. FINALLY, our baby turtles made a move. Yesterday morning, when doing our beach patrol Nikki, saw evidence of coning (where the sand had dropped a few cm because of movement). There were even a couple of baby turtle tracks. On hearing this I made my decision to stay two more days. I had stayed this long and could not miss the opportunity to sleep on the beach waiting for the little guys. Another volunteer is scheduled to arrive March 1st, so I would still be able to catch a cheaper boat to the mainland. In order to compensate for this added expense I'm now planning on skipping the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. The other choice was to skip rock climbing, but I think it will be safer to skip the Full Moon lol.

After our turtle discovery, on of the field leaders from the other island headed over with a volunteer to join our camp out. at 4:30pm we were packed and ready to catch the boat back to the main beach, brining with us blankets, dinner, red lights and other turtle accessories. We watched the sun go down, then dug in to eat. The night sky was unbelievable! I have necer seen so many stars in the sky and the moon reminded me of the Cheshire Cat's smile from Alice in Wonderland. There was no way to tell what time of the night the babies would make their appearance, so we waited patiently. Tom, one of the fields leaders estimated that 21 babies had already made it to the sea the previous night based on the number of tracks. At 8:30pm our little ones made their presence known as we were all huddled around the nest (the novelty of waiting had not worn out yet!). Seven emerged from the soft sand. They were then placed in a bucket so they could be measured and weighed before release. Unfortunately the Thai worker from the island (a man with no biology background) hired by the Phuket Marine Biology Centre, continuously caused problems for us. Geting in our field assistants ways, using flash photography, white lights and digging in some of the nest hopping for more. Only red lights can be used as turtles do not register red light. He would not listen to any one and completely ignored our translators attempts to reason with him on our behalf.

After all measurements were taken, the turtles were placed back on the top of the nest and left to fly to the sea! Thankfully, the moon had a clear path on the water, with the lights of all the squid boats falling outside the path. Hopefully our little guys will make it past all the fishing dangers of the Andaman Coast. Unfortunately, one turtle became confused because of the one mans white light and headed back to the beach, where a crab attempted to make a meal out of it. One of the volunteers taking a bathroom break discovered the situation and was able to rescue the turtle and send it in the right direction. I have some fantastic photos of our nest and a video I hope to be able to get online soon.

That night only the 7 made their way out of the nest. We will head back there again tonight to sleep and hope for more before the nest is excavated tomorrow morning.

Other then our exciting nights, my last few days have been pretty typical for the island, beach walks, observations, painting in the Community Conservation Centre. I also attempted to puzzle together a turtle skeleton; however, the remains are too different from humans and without any proper reference material I gave up after working on the neck and tail. I also have a deer that I was working with (a bit easier then the turtle). I was able to put the vertebrae in order and side most of the bones.

Oh, and I've given up on filming the skipping long tom fish. I think their camera shy, because the day I made this decision, a group of 5 made an appearance. Oh well.

Hopefully I'll talk to you March 1st, when I head to Phang Nga. I might be staying another couple days in another homestay so my internet access may remain unreliable until I head to Krabi or the Gulf Coast.



Very nice record!

  Myles Mar 2, 2012 4:40 PM

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