THE THAILAND PROJECT: MARINE AND COASTAL ECOLOGY OF THE INDO-PACIFIC
Join us this winter as we investigate first hand the distinctive coastal ecology of Thailand and Malaysia. This region’s offshore habitat supports some of the highest diversity of tropical marine life to occur anywhere on Earth, with hundreds of species of fish, coral and other invertebrates intermingled in a complex habitat.
Our program includes an ecological survey of key habitats along the coast and offshore islands of southern Thailand and the peninsular part of Malaysia. Focal ecosystems include mangrove forests, sea grass estuaries, and fringing coral reefs. We will also explore the impact of local fishing practices: operations that range from small-scale cast nets to large commercial trawlers. In addition, there are shrimp farmers, charcoal collectors, agriculturalists, and tourism developers, so human ecology is a second major theme of our program. In some places, appropriate, small-scale harvesting of marine resources offers a sustainable local lifestyle; in other places, human activity is disrupting the environment. And even seemingly tranquil coastal communities are vulnerable to external environmental threats. Our field studies will allow us to view and experience these complex challenges first hand.
Team members will participate in an ecological survey of key Indo-Pacific coastal habitats in Southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia. Within this region, we will study coastal mangrove forests, sea-grass estuaries, low wave-energy beach communities, and fringing coral reefs on outer islands where the waters are crystal clear. Field sites include the tropical island archipelagoes of Ko Surin and Ko Adang in Thailand and Pualau Perhentian in Malaysia. In each of these places, extensive, well-developed fringing reefs surround numerous islands, providing an excellent teaching and research environment for understanding the coral reef ecology. On several islands, effective conservation efforts mean that the fish are generally larger and more abundant. On other islands, long-term human impacts have changed the composition of the reef community to one that supports smaller fish and larger, more abundant invertebrates.
Our field activities include counts and surveys of selected coral reef fish species, some of which are brightly colored and beautifully adapted to their complex marine habitat. We will run transects to compare particular aspects of the different reef ecosystems, and, while snorkeling, we will use GPS and underwater digital photography to document change at designated sampling sites.
Mainland coastal sites are another important component of the program. These include Khao Samroi Yot National Park, the “mountain of three hundred pinnacles,” on the east coast of peninsular Thailand where rugged crags of limestone crop out beyond an intertidal mangrove estuary that is being restored following long-term overfishing by shrimp farmers. Hat Chao Mai National Park is another of our spectacular study sites on the Andaman Coast of southern Thailand. With its extensive sea-grass beds, virtual meadows that flourish on the sandy bottom of calm tropical bays, the area around Trang supports Thailand’s only population of dugongs, a gentle, grazing marine mammals sometimes called sea cows. At Hat Chao Mai, we will consider ecosystem management, evaluating strategies to mitigate existing threats to the coastal ecology.
This project presents a singular opportunity to assess issues that affect coastal and marine environments in Thailand and Malaysia, to investigate the habitat first-hand, and to discover possible strategies posed by resource extraction, coastal development, and climate change. By the end of the project each of us will have learned about the lives of many coastal and marine animal species, and about indigenous sea-faring culture groups.
WWU Accessibility Notice