Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thailand: Day 30

2/20/12 Monday, Adang, Tarutao National Park, Thailand

When it rains, it pours, even in paradise. As I rub the sleep from my eyes and emerge from my tent, I vividly recall the rain's percussive 'lullaby' beating down on my tent in concert with rumbling thunder and bursts of lightning throughout the night. This morning, however, is calm and serene; the only hint of yesterday's deluge are incredible clouds that linger lazily in the pre-dawn sky. The moon is a sliver of white, a faint smile. I watch as it dims with every step I take down the beach. I keep my eyes open, intent on the brightening skyline and highlighted clouds. There is no better way to start a day than with a simple miracle.


Adang is one of the many islands within Tarutao National Park in Thailand. It houses a ranger station, a large camping area, a few bungalows, restrooms with running water, and a small restaurant which feeds the staff and the handful of tourists that venture off the beaten path. The island has a breathtaking nature trail up to the top of Chado Cliff and a fresh water falls known as "Pirate Waterfall" a nod to the days when real pirates ravaged the Straits of Malacca. While Adang has much to offer in terms of natural beauty and environmental attractions, it lacks the tropical resort appeal that screams Ko Lipe in every tourist brochure.

The Wildlands group set up camp on Adang's southeastern shore. Everyone went about appraising the local real estate. Ant highways were investigated, neighbors considered, defenses against monkeys implemented, and access to amenities were all scrutinized in the search for the perfect spot. I decided to pitch my tent facing the ocean beneath a tall Casuarina, a sea "pine" that's not really a pine at all.

The green "pines" are actually stems with minute leaves which eventually dry out, turn brown, and blanket the ground below. The Casuarina also produces a hard, spiked seed, about the size of a blueberry, which can float in the ocean and will germinate at the surf line. They'd easily poke a hole through my tent. It took me a good long while to clear a space for my tent and even out the sand with a stick, but after all was said and done, I knew I had a little piece of paradise.

Today, the Wildlands group went out to three sites, Southwest Ko Yang, the "nature trail" off of Had Sai Khao on Ko Rawi, and North Ko Yang. Each site had something unique to offer. Both sides of Ko Yang featured soft and hard corals, as well as a number of sponges, algae and other sessile organisms. Reef fish darted in and out of crevices as I dove down to investigate, holding each breath longer than the last. As I peered into each and every nook and cranny, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of jealousy at all the underwater animals breathing water.

The Rawi's "nature trail" was a particularly interesting site because an attempt was made to forge a path for snorkelers to follow. Numbered plates were drilled into the rock to identify the route to follow, but storms have altered the substrate and it wasn't well maintained. I started from the beginning and made it to the end, but deviated from the actual route significantly. A flowerfish (Pearsonothuria graeffe) crept along the sand in search of food, 'nemos' popped in and out of anemones, and a giant moray smiled as cleaner wrasse swam in and out of its gills- there was no way I could stick to a set path in such a fluid world.

While I may have been swimming with the fail whale during my journey roughly along the nature trail, I could see its value if properly maintained. The underwater world can be daunting, especially to people who are not confident swimmers or who have never explored a reef. The idea of a path with set points and relevant information could be a good place to start for first time snorkelers or people unfamiliar with local waters. It would also localize human impacts thereby reducing disturbances and negative externalities from highly utilized reefs. It would also be interesting to compare such "nature trails" with sites that have little or no human disturbances. Needless to say, while I may not have followed the route, I appreciated it for what its potential.

I was lucky to have been able to snorkel on Rawi as the site was actually closed to snorkelers due to the extensive bleaching in 2010. Thankfully, due to our research endeavors, park rangers allowed us to explore the reefs at our leisure. While there was definitely evidence of bleaching and storm damage, there was a good amount of regenerating coral and a higher diversity of hard corals than I had expected from the grim warnings. In fact, corals may not be given enough credit for their resilience, but it is clear human impacts should be curtailed to ensure a that these reef ecosystems have a future.

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