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Phuket home to UN marine management project



PHUKET: Getting eight culturally diverse countries with varying systems of government and historically contentious relationships to co-operate on environmental management is a mammoth task.

That is precisely what the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem project (BOBLME) hopes to facilitate over the next four years with nations in the Bay of Bengal region.

BOBLME, covering about 6.2 million square kilometers of ocean, began in April of 2009 and operates under the leadership of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), bringing together Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and Thailand in its efforts to improve regional environmental management.

BOBLME is one of 64 areas worldwide designated by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as Large Marine Ecosystems (LME).

Armed with a US$31 million budget, BOBLME is based in Phuket and aims to “assist the eight countries that share the bay [of Bengal] in developing a collaborative framework to work together towards a common goal: The overall health and sustainability of this vast marine resource,” according to a BOBLME statement.

There are an estimated 450 million people living in the Bay of Bengal coastal region who are dependent on its resources. Key to the project is its “borderless” scope as it seeks to work with scientists and regional governments in developing coastal management practices that benefit all nations in the LME.

In addition to guidance and coordination, BOBLME also provides financial support to countries and facilitates training, research and information gathering.

A major step forward for the project began late last year when BOBLME facilitated an agreement between Thai and Burmese officials to address management of the Mergui [Myeik in Burmese] Archipelago, which extends from the Surin Islands in Thailand, north to the coastal town of Mergui in Burma.

The archipelago is made up of more than 800 islands including Thahtay Kyun Island in Burma, home to the Andaman Club, a popular “visa run” destination near Ranong, Thailand.

The region is coming under increasing pressure from urban development, tourism, fishing and “it is not exempt from the impacts of climate change and rising water temperatures that are contributing to coral bleaching in some areas,” a BOBLME statement read.

“BOBLME is supporting the Thailand and Myanmar [Burma] governments to implement a collaborative management approach in this special area that is shared by both countries,” BOBLME Regional coordinator Chris O’Brien told the Phuket Gazette.

“We know there is a strong sense of community in this area and it will be interesting to see how communities in the Mergui Archipelago, including the Moken or Salong [sea gypsy] people, get involved in this initiative,” Mr O’Brien said.

Teams will soon begin data collection, review and analysis for the Mergui Archipelago project, involving a wide range of government bodies, universities and non-government organizations.

“The goal of the activities is to inform management and improve governance that aims at the balancing of sustainable resource use and social well-being,” according to the statement.

Speaking of the BOBLME headquarters location in Ao Makham, Mr O’Brien told the Gazette, “Being located in Phuket and away from a large capital city such as Bangkok means we have the opportunity to get a better feeling for how the project is affecting people at the community level.

“Another advantage is that the project can benefit from closer ties to the many excellent technical organizations that are located in Phuket, such as the Andaman Sea Fisheries Research and Development Center of the Department of Fisheries, the Phuket Marine Biological Center of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and the Prince of Songkla University.”

The project is currently analyzing and adding to the Trans-boundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA), which is the culmination of seven years of work. The TDA has identified three “main areas of concern”: Over-exploitation of the marine living resources, degradation of coral reefs, mangroves and sea-grass, and pollution.

The TDA was recently released to the various countries involved for “consultation”, in which National Coordinators and stakeholders review the particular issues facing them.

Thailand held its first national consultation meeting on Tuesday at the Royal Phuket City Hotel in Phuket Town.

The meeting was organized by Dr Sakanan Plathong of the Coral Reef and Benthos Research Unit, Department of Biology, Prince of Songkla University.

After extensive review and approval of the document, the next phase of the project will begin: The Strategic Action Plan, which will see implementation of various projects based on the TDA.

— Nicholas Altstadt


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