FOTO • DOCUMENTAIRE • Photodoc: How the people of Thai fishing village Ao Yai are welcoming ecotourism

Ao Yai is where the old ways and the new ways come together to make up this crossover of a modern, yet authentic fishing village that will hopefully be preserved for many generations to come. The people of Ai Yai welcome tourists and introduce them to their traditional ways and also to the concept of ecotourism.

Polluted shores in the Trat province.
A girl is fishing by herself on the big wooden pier in Ao Yai.

Last winter I travelled to Thailand. I visited the small fishing town of Ao Yai on Koh Kood island, the most southern island of the Thai east coast. Ao Yai is a traditional village where people have always lived from the the sea, but when tourism in Thailand got more important – about 20% of the national income now depends on tourism – life in this small town changed.

Every day (still) plastic waste washes up on the shores of the Thai islands. Water bottles, kid’s toys, shoes, you name it. Tourism is a factor that threatens the sea and all that lives in it. So some years ago, coral reefs and the sealife population had decreased quite a lot in this region. But the people of the island familiarized themselves with sustainable tourism so that today the ocean, from which they feed their community, is healing.

Auntie Wassana, one of the town leaders, sets out on a boat weekly to do three things. Firstly, to release female crabs that bear eggs and to replant pieces of coral reef on the ocean floor. Secondly, they replant a partially artificial coral reef for wildlife population: they cut up bigger pieces of coral and wire them onto a piece of concrete with a tube. It speeds up the healing process of the reefs around the village to create an optimal environment for fish and other species.

Thirdly, to introduce visitors of Ao Yai to their green way of handling tourism by inviting them to participate. While the locals are keeping a close eye on them, they can swim out to put down the coral on the ocean floor themselves.

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